Divorce and the issue of Donative Intent

A recent Florida Supreme Court case has been published that reviewed a case regarding Hooker v Hooker.  The issue of Donative Intent became an issue of the parties.  The Supreme Court of Florida did not decide the fate of the issue of donative intent of the spouses but rather the appellate standard of review of the trial courts decision on donative intent.

The Florida Supreme Court said in its opinion that the trial court was correct in using “competent and substantial evidence.” “So instead of just determining whether or not there was competent evidence to support the trial court’s decision, the 4th (District) erred by actually reweighing the evidence and substituting their own judgment,”

In California if an order is appealed, the appellate court must use a standard of review of determining if there is substantial evidence that will support the family law courts orders. The appellate court cannot retry the case they are only to make inferences to make sure the trial court did not error on the use of the law.

The Florida Court of Hooker v Hooker had to evaluate a similar situation wherein they had to review whether the spouses had the donative intent necessary to transfer property.  The parties were in dispute as to the division of certain properties and whether there was a donative intent involved in the transfer of the properties.  Apparently, On appeal the appellate court reassessed the trial courts ruling by retrying the evidence again using there own standard of review.  The Florida Supreme Court held that Appellate Court was not the trier of fact and should not retry issues of donative intent at the appellate level.  Their job was to determine an error of law and if there was substantial evidence to rule one way or the other in the family law Court.

In determining the donative intent of the party the trial court must look at the verbal statement of the party at the time of the transfer.  In some cases the court must look at the statement if it is to do something in the future.  In addition, the California Courts often look to see if the party waived their interest in their separate property to understand intent. Often in California Courts a party will contribute their separate property to the community property.  Thus it must be determined if the proper waiver of the party was done to show that in fact it was a donative gift of property verse a mere loan.   In California, there must be a written waiver in order to show donative intent.  If there was a written waiver of their contribution to the community estate then it is called a transmutation.

As in Hooker v Hooker the appellate Courts in California must only look to the sufficiency of the evidence in order to determine if the trial court made the right descision.

The Florida Supreme Court made it clear that the appellate court has a limited role in the judicial system.  It cannot overstep its boundaries.