TALLAHASSEE —The Florida Supreme Court recently issued an opinion that is waiting for final decision in a marriage dissolution property dispute case in which it ruled on the intent of action by the husband.
In Hooker v Hooker, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that Timothy Hooker intended to give Nancy Hooker premarital properties involved in a divorce dispute as interspousal gifts despite having premarital agreements.
“From a family law perspective this is a very non-controversial decision in the sense that we’re all very unified in the sentiment that this is very contrary to established law in Florida,” Natalie Lemos, president of the American Academy of Matrimonial Law Florida Chapter, told the Florida Record.
Nancy Hooker filed for divorce from Timothy Hooker in 2010; the couple were married in 1987. The couple's prenuptial agreements said each would retain premarital properties should a divorce occur. Through the course of the divorce, two properties became in dispute. Nancy Hooker argued that Timothy Hooker had donative intent because the properties were used for residence even though the title to the properties did not list her.
“Ordinarily if a party gets married and they have premarital property, unless they change the title to the property, that property always remains theirs,” Lemos said. “And that had been the case law in Florida for forever.”
The Florida Supreme Court dedicated a portion of the opinion to explain its agreement with the lower court for using “competent and substantial evidence” to determine interspousal gifts in a marriage dissolution. The trial court’s ruling said the properties “were and should be considered joint marital assets of the Husband and Wife in equitable distribution by this Court, the way they were considered joint marital assets by the parties as they lived and raised a family in these ‘assets.’”
Lemos said the property would be converted into marital property because of how the couple interacted over the years they were married.
“What this opinion did is say, even though there was no title change to the premarital property, because of how the parties interacted - the husband and wife over the years - they’re going to find that the husband intended to donate half of his interests in the property to his wife, thereby converting this premarital property into marital property,” Lemos said.
Lemos also had major concerns that the courts had never examined the Florida standard of what a gift is and how it applied to the case.
“The last element (of the standard) requires that the gifting party relinquishes ownership or control over the asset,” Lemos said. “The Supreme Court, the trial court, nobody really addressed how they were able to establish that the husband in this case was able to relinquish his interest in the property.”
The American Academy of Matrimonial Law Florida Chapter, along with the with the Family Law section of the Florida Bar, will be submitting an amicus brief in support of the motion for rehearing, Lemos said.
Once the time has passed for submitting briefs, the high court will either grant the motion for rehearing or deny the motion and issue the ruling as final.