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What the Gotro v. Gotro Case Teaches Us About Equitable Distribution

The longer a couple has been married, and the more assets they have, the more complicated the case tends to be if they divorce. Perhaps the most bitter divorce battles center around the physical custody of minor children and the right to make decisions related to their upbringing. When a couple does not have minor children, the biggest disagreements usually have to do with the division of property. Florida courts have clear rules about what is marital property and what is non-marital property, but there is still room for complicated situations to arise in which each spouse can make a claim to a certain asset. For example, if one spouse earned a lot more money than the other during the marriage, how should that money be divided? If one spouse used the couple’s money irresponsibly, how does that affect the court’s decision about how to divide the property?

Florida’s Equitable Distribution Doctrine

Florida courts divide divorcing couples’ property according to the principle of equitable distribution. In other words, they go by what is fair. They do not always divide marital property evenly, and they do not simply take into account how much income each spouse brought in and then let each spouse keep only the money he or she earned. Florida law also considers unpaid contributions to the marriage as reasons a person is entitled to a certain share of the marital property. For example, time spent as a stay-at-home parent also counts as a contribution. The logic is that, when taking care of the children full time, the stay-at-home parent spouse was freeing up the other spouse to concentrate more on earning money.

The courts also consider misconduct, which, in the case of equitable distribution means intentionally misusing marital property in order to sabotage the marriage or in order to prevent the other spouse from having access to it in the event of a divorce. Examples of misconduct include spending money on an extramarital affair partner or gambling with jointly owned money.  Unsuccessful business ventures undertaken in good faith are not considered misconduct.

The Gotro Case and Equitable Distribution

John Gotro and Catherine Gotro were a Florida couple married for 39 years. All of their children were adults at the time they divorced, so child support and parenting plans were not part of their divorce case. The couple’s assets were considerably less at the time their divorce was finalized than when it was initiated. Catherine alleged misconduct, claiming that her husband intentionally wasted the money, so that the divisible assets would be less when the divorce was finalized.  John claimed that he had spent the money on household expenses for him and for his estranged wife, meanwhile paying her temporary alimony. The court sided with John, as misconduct, as it applies to equitable distribution, refers only to a very specific set of behaviors. It is also notable in this case that the court awarded Catherine permanent alimony because of her age and the length of the marriage.

Let Alan R. Burton Help You Navigate Property Division in Divorce

Dividing property in a divorce is not just as simple as calculating who earned how much.  Contact Alan Burton in Palm Beach County with questions about your entitlement to your share of marital property in divorce.