Appeals court rules Florida man will receive half of combined assets

By Charmaine Little | May 18, 2017

BROWARD COUNTY — Florida's 4th District Court of Appeal has ruled that an unmarried Florida couple will split combined assets in a case over a property the pair owned together.

Anthony Armao appealed a ruling of a lower court that granted his former real estate partner, Russell Turnbull, $750,000. The appeals court overturned the trial court's decision and awarded Turnbull $509,224.

Turnbull and Armao's dispute began in 2013 when Armao sued him for half of the property they owned together, as well as half of the proceeds from the sale of the property, and returned money for expenses that were paid concerning the property. 

The two were never married but were in a relationship for over 40 years before they separated. During that time, they came to an agreement that they would "take care of each other financially and emotionally 'just like a married couple,'" according to court documents. This included turning over to Armao $500,000 that Turnbull made from working with Armao's family business, as well as the sales from the home Turnbull owned prior to his relationship with Armao, the sales from the condo they lived in together before moving into a house, proceeds from a yacht they sold, as well as joint loans and Turnbull's inheritance from his mother's passing. This totaled $1,048,448. Turnbull was seeking $509,224 and is half of the value of their combined assets, court documents state.

The trial court rewarded Turnbull $750,000 for the claim, as well as a counterclaim based on an email from a judicial assistant. The trial court also decided that the both parties' funds were "commingled" when it came to mortgage and living arrangements, so it said that the counterclaim would be "50 percent of the net fair market value of all assets of Plaintiff and Defendant should be awarded to the Defendant," totaling the $750,000.

Armao disputed this and said this judgment was different than what was stated in the email.

However, the appeals court said in the opinion that Florida does "(r)ecognize oral cohabitation agreements between unmarried parties" and that there was enough evidence to confirm the trial court's decision about the oral agreement. Other evidence also supported Turnbull's testimony.

But when it came to the $750,000 award, the court reversed the trial court's decision and decided that Turnbull should receive $509,224. It agreed with the trial court and upheld "the award of no partition of credits."

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