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Marshall-Beasley v. Beasley

Florida Court of Appeal, Fourth District

December 7, 2011

Elizabeth MARSHALL-BEASLEY, Appellant,
James W. BEASLEY, Jr., Appellee.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Amy D. Shield of Amy D. Shield, P.A., Boca Raton, for appellant.

Robert J. Hauser of Beasley, Hauser, Kramer, Leonard & Galardi, P.A., West Palm Beach, and Odette Marie Bendeck of Fisher & Bendeck, P.A., West Palm Beach, for appellee.


Elizabeth Marshall-Beasley (" Former Wife" ) appeals the final judgment dissolving her marriage to James W. Beasley, Jr., (" Former Husband" ) following trial as to equitable distribution and bridge-the-gap alimony. Specifically, she challenges six decisions by the trial court: (1) the award of the marital home to her, (2) the amount of employment income imputed to her, (3) the award of bridge-the-gap alimony instead of permanent periodic alimony, (4) the determination of jewelry gifts by Former Husband to be a marital rather than nonmarital asset, (5) Former Husband's post-petition spending was not waste, and (6) Former Husband's pre-petition advance distribution of his 401(k) account was taxed properly. We affirm.

Factual Background

The parties were married in 1986. Their marriage lasted 21 years, and they had no children. Former Husband, 66 at the time of trial, historically has earned $400,000 a year as a litigation attorney; he plans to retire in mid-2013 at 70. Former Husband is a 90% shareholder in a small litigation law firm with a negative net worth. He is the only member of the firm who personally guarantees the firm's lease and line of credit. At the time of trial, Former Husband personally was indebted to Northern Trust for $618,507 that he had borrowed and loaned to the firm.

Former Wife, 50 at the time of trial, has impressive educational and professional credentials. She has a degree from Princeton University in urban policy and planning. During the marriage, she obtained a degree in drafting and design and a master's degree in landscape architecture. She has been on the State Board of Landscape Architecture since 2002, the highest state regulatory body in the profession, and has served as the chair of that organization.

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From 2001 until their separation, the parties enjoyed a comfortable lifestyle. Their pre-petition expenses exceeded their combined income from investments and employment, which required them to invade the principal of their investment accounts. In mid-June, 2008, Former Husband vacated the marital home in Palm Beach (" Bahama Lane" ). In August, 2008, he withdrew $450,000 from his 401(k) account to buy a separate local residence. The amount of the funds after income tax was $351,112. Former Husband used a portion of these funds as a down payment on a house in West Palm Beach (" Rugby Road" ) in October, 2008. Former Wife petitioned for dissolution on September 1, 2009, and sought exclusive possession of Bahama Lane. Prior to trial, Former Wife decided that she wanted to buy a $1.4 million cottage in Palm Beach and to sell Bahama Lane. Given the stock market and real estate plummets, costs, and depreciation, approximately $9 million marital assets remained for distribution between the parties.

Following trial, the judge awarded Bahama Lane to Former Wife and the Nantucket vacation home to Former Husband; the houses were approximately of equal value. The judge equally divided the assets and gave Former Husband and Former Wife each $4.5 million in real and personal property, including accounts and investments. The judge found Former Wife's reasonable after-tax needs to be $10,000 per month, and her expected income after taxes to be $12,166 per month, including $50,000 per year of professional income after taxes. The trial judge awarded $4,000 per month bridge-the-gap alimony for a year to give Former Wife time to develop her professional earning ability and to liquidate Bahama Lane.

Legal Analysis

We review a trial court's equitable distribution of marital assets and an award of alimony for abuse of discretion. Lule v. Lule, 60 So.3d 567, 569 (Fla. 4th DCA 2011); Rafanello v. Bode, 21 So.3d 867, 869 (Fla. 4th DCA 2009). By statute, a trial court must formulate a complete equitable distribution: " In any contested dissolution action wherein a stipulation and agreement has not been entered and filed, any distribution of marital assets or marital liabilities shall be supported by factual findings in the judgment or order based on competent substantial evidence with reference to the factors enumerated in subsection (1)." ยง 61.075(3), Fla. Stat. (2009) (emphasis added). We apply these review standards in addressing the issues on appeal.

Bahama Lane Residence

Although the trial judge had invited the parties to submit a complete written agreement of equitable distribution, they did not do so. The Joint Equitable Distribution Update that was provided to the judge on the first day of trial testimony was a listing of assets that the parties had valued and those left for the court to determine. The valuations to which the parties stipulated were limited to real property and brokerage accounts and not all their assets for equitable ...

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