In every dissolution of marriage action filed in Boca Raton, Fort Lauderdale, or anywhere else throughout the state of Florida, the parties are required to file a financial affidavit which details their income, expenses, assets and liabilities. The importance of filing this document in an accurate manner cannot be over emphasized.
What happens when assets are not disclosed by a party to the divorce proceeding?
In Romero v. Romero, 959 So.2d 333 (Fla. 3DCA 2007), the husband failed to disclose stock options he had received over the course of the marriage, and which the wife was unaware of. They were ultimately discovered by her after the proceedings concluded, and she subsequently tried to reach them through the use of a constructive trust.
The trial court concluded that these options were marital assets because they were awarded to the husband based upon his past qualifications and experience over the course of the marriage.
The wife testified that had she known about them, she would have wanted half; that she would have exercised them; she would have sold them, and would have used the proceeds to reduce the mortgage on her home.
The decision of the trial court, awarding the wife half of the options, was ultimately reversed on appeal. The appellate court ruled that the wife failed to establish the elements of fraud, and "impermissibly stacked inference upon inference, with the full benefit of hindsight, culminating in a final judgment based solely upon speculation."
What makes this case rather interesting is the fact that neither party completed a thorough examination of their assets when they drafted their marital settlement agreement. Given theses circumstances, the court concluded that the husband did not commit any fraud in not disclosing his stock options.
It is important to recognize that a petition to set aside a final judgment in a divorce case cannot be done simply because of non-disclosure on a financial affidavit. There must be more. The moving party must still establish a ground for setting aside the judgment pursuant to Florida Rules of Civil Procedure, Rule 1.540(b)(3).
In other words, a movant must show not just that the affidavit contained a false statement of a material fact, but also that it was fraudulent, i.e., that the person making the false statement knew that it was false, that the false statement was made with the intent that the other party would rely on the false statement, and that the other party actually relied on the false statement and was thereby prejudiced. Ward v. Atl. Sec. Bank, 777 So.2d 1144, 1146 (Fla. 3d DC 2001).
The moral of the story is to exercise due diligence in not only completing your financial affidavit, but to also conduct your own extensive investigation into discovering the nature and extent of all marital assets. For more valuable information regarding this subject or any other subject that you may have an interest in, please click the following link which will take you over to my site, www.alanburtonlaw.com.