Can You Legally Remove Items from the Marital Home Before Divorce in Florida?

Experiencing a divorce can be an exceptionally challenging and emotionally charged period. Many legal and financial matters must be addressed when a marriage ends, including the division of marital property.

One common question that arises is whether a spouse can legally remove items and belongings from the marital home before the divorce is finalized. This is an important issue because the removal of property from the home could be considered dissipation of marital assets, which is prohibited under Florida divorce law.

In this article, we will examine the laws in Florida regarding marital property division and the removal of items from the marital home. We will look at whether it is legal for a spouse to take property from the home and, if so, what limits and restrictions apply.

What is Considered Marital Property in Florida?

Under Florida’s equitable distribution laws, most property acquired during the marriage is considered marital property, regardless of which spouse owns the title or is named on the account.

Marital property generally includes:

  • The marital home and other real estate were purchased during the marriage.
  • Vehicles, jewelry, art, furniture, and other personal property obtained during the marriage.
  • Bank accounts, investments, stock options, and vested retirement benefits accrued during the marriage.
  • Any increase in value of non-marital property that occurred during the marriage.
  • Income earned from employment during the marriage.
  • Businesses started or operated during the marriage.
  • Debts incurred during the marriage.

Separate property that is considered non-marital includes:

  • Assets owned by one spouse prior to the marriage.
  • Inheritances, gifts, or insurance proceeds acquired by only one spouse during the marriage.
  • Non-vested retirement benefits accrued prior to marriage.
  • Income or appreciation from non-marital property.

How is Marital Property Divided in Florida Divorce?

Florida is an “equitable distribution” state when it comes to dividing marital property in a divorce. This means marital assets are divided in a fair and just manner, but not necessarily equally.

The court examines factors like:

  • Each spouse’s contributions to acquiring marital property.
  • Economic circumstances of each spouse.
  • Duration of the marriage.
  • Any interruption in a spouse’s career for homemaking.

Based on these factors, the court decides on a property settlement that is equitable. The goal is a fair division, not an equal one.

Is Removing Marital Property Before Divorce Legal in Florida?

In general, Florida law prohibits one spouse from depleting, concealing, or removing marital assets while a divorce is pending.

Under Florida Statute 61.075(1)(i), the judge may consider the “intentional dissipation, waste, depletion, or destruction of marital assets” by a spouse when deciding on a property settlement.

Examples of dissipation of marital assets include:

  • Selling, transferring, or giving away marital property without the other spouse’s consent.
  • Withdrawing large sums of money from joint accounts.
  • Running up debt or credit card balances.
  • Destroying property belonging to both spouses.
  • Removing furniture, artwork, jewelry, and other valuables from the marital home.

The key issue is whether the spouse’s actions seem intended to hide, deplete, or destroy marital assets before the divorce is final. If so, the judge has the discretion to compensate the other spouse when dividing property.

Limits on Removing Personal Property from the Marital Home

While dissipation of major assets is prohibited, Florida law does allow a spouse to remove personal belongings and ordinary household furnishings from the home prior to divorce under certain conditions:

  • Only items acquired during the marriage solely for that spouse’s personal use may be removed.
  • The items taken cannot exceed what is fair and reasonable for that spouse’s sole benefit.
  • This applies only to personal property, not joint marital assets.
  • Removal of the items cannot adversely affect the other spouse’s rights or access to the home.

For example, a spouse would likely be permitted to remove their own clothing, personal jewelry, toiletries, laptop, phone, and other daily necessities.

However, they should not remove furniture, artwork, electronics, or other valuables purchased jointly or acquired during the marriage, as those would still be deemed marital property.

Should You Speak to a Divorce Lawyer First?

While the law allows removing some personal items, it’s wise to consult a qualified Florida divorce attorney before taking any property from the marital home.

An attorney can advise you on the following:

  • What types of items are considered your separate personal property.
  • What removal limits apply to ensure you don’t dissipate marital assets.
  • Strategies to protect your financial rights and fair share of marital property.
  • How and when to go about removing permitted personal belongings.
  • Potential consequences if your actions are challenged later.

Attempting to remove valuables or joint marital property without consent could backfire and negatively impact your divorce settlement. It’s essential to get professional legal guidance before taking any belongings from the home.

Protecting Your Assets During a Florida Divorce

While a divorce is pending, both spouses still have equal rights to marital property and assets. Neither spouse can sell, damage, or dissipate joint property without consent.

However, there are lawful steps you can take to safeguard your financial interests:

  • Open an individual bank account to protect your income and savings.
  • Avoid using joint credit cards or adding debt in your spouse’s name.
  • Change passwords and locks if you fear your spouse may act vindictively.
  • Photograph valuables that might get damaged or disappear.
  • Ask your divorce lawyer about options like filing a restraining order if assets are being dissipated.
  • Have your attorney send a letter to your spouse regarding laws against asset dissipation.
  • Consider mediation if you and your spouse can negotiate an equitable division outside of court.

Consulting a Florida Divorce Lawyer

Going through a divorce can be immensely stressful. Contacting an experienced Florida family law attorney is crucial to ensure you understand your legal rights regarding marital property division.

An attorney can advise you on the proper process for protecting assets and removing permitted personal belongings from the marital home. They can also represent your interests in negotiating a fair property settlement.

Don’t take any chances with your hard-earned marital assets. Seek proper legal counsel before making any moves to remove items from the home. Family law firms like Vollrath Law in Oviedo, FL, can help. With the right guidance, you can gain peace of mind that your financial rights are secured.

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