FINAL UNTIL TIME EXPIRES TO FILE REHEARING MOTION, AND IF
for Review of the Decision of the District Court of Appeal -
Direct Conflict of Decisions Fourth District - Case No.
4D13-1841, (Palm Beach County)
J. Hauser of Pankauski Hauser PLLC, West Palm Beach, Florida;
and Susan G. Chopin of Chopin & Chopin, LP, West Palm
Beach, Florida, for Petitioner/Cross-Respondent
Kreusler-Walsh, Rebecca Mercier Vargas, and Stephanie L.
Serafin of the Law Office of Kreusler-Walsh, Compiani &
Vargas, P.A., West Palm Beach, Florida; and Melinda P. Gamot
of The Gamot Law Firm, P.L., Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, for
issue in this dissolution of marriage case is whether the
Fourth District Court of Appeal applied an improper standard
of review to the trial court's factual findings regarding
whether a spouse had donative intent to establish that
property was an interspousal gift and, therefore, included in
the marital estate subject to equitable distribution.
Hooker v. Hooker, 174 So.3d 507, 511 (Fla. 4th DCA
2015). Nancy Hooker (Wife) petitioned this Court for review.
We accepted jurisdiction because the Fourth District's
opinion expressly and directly conflicts with this
Court's decision in Shaw v. Shaw, 334 So.2d 13
(Fla. 1976), the First District Court of Appeal's
decision in Merrill v. Merrill, 357 So.2d 792 (Fla.
1st DCA 1978), and the Third District Court of Appeal's
decision in Abreu v. Amaro, 534 So.2d 771 (Fla. 3d
DCA 1988), on a question of law. We have jurisdiction.
See art. V, § 3(b)(3), Fla.
conclude that the appropriate standard of review is
competent, substantial evidence. And, in this case, the
Fourth District improperly reweighed the evidence under a
preponderance of the evidence standard. Finally, we conclude
that the record contains competent, substantial evidence to
support the trial court's findings that both properties
at issue were marital and, therefore, subject to equitable
distribution. Accordingly, we affirm in part and quash in
part the Fourth District's decision, which results in
reinstating the trial court's Amended Final Judgment.
and Timothy Hooker were married in September 1987 in New
York. In 1989, the Hookers moved to Florida. Before their
marriage, the parties executed a prenuptial agreement, the
validity of which is not disputed. Pertinent to this dispute,
the prenuptial agreement provided that, upon dissolution,
each party would retain his or her premarital assets and any
appreciation of those assets. Both parties had independent
sources of income from family inheritances, and they
maintained independent finances throughout the
marriage. The parties had a mutual passion for
equestrian training, boarding, and showing, which was at the
center of their marriage and their day-to-day
2010, following a twenty-three-year marriage, Wife petitioned
for dissolution of marriage. At that time, the couple's
net worth was $4, 806, 524. This property dispute results
from the trial court's equitable distribution following
the Hookers' dissolution of marriage. Two pieces of
residential real property are relevant to this case:
Hickstead and Lake George. At trial, Wife argued and
presented evidence that Husband had donative intent with
respect to Hickstead and Lake George and, therefore, these
properties were marital assets as a result of interspousal
gift. Husband disagreed, arguing that neither Hickstead nor
Lake George was a marital asset and he never had the donative
intent for either property to become a marital asset. Also
relevant is Hooker Hollow, LLC, which was a company that
Husband formed during the marriage.
first property, referred to as "Hickstead, " is
located in Wellington, Florida. Husband purchased Hickstead in
1989 after Wife's father recommended the property as a
beneficial investment. Husband's father also paid $25,
000 for a lottery ticket, which provided Husband the
opportunity to purchase Hickstead. Hooker, 174 So.3d
at 512. The Hickstead deed listed "Alice I. Hooker Trust
FBO [("the AIH Trust")], for the benefit of,
Timothy I. Hooker" as the grantee.
Husband purchased Hickstead in 1989, it was vacant land. At
the time of the dissolution of marriage over two decades
later, Hickstead "was a working horse farm with 16
stalls and all the tack rooms and feed rooms that went with
it, a jump field, a rod and ring, paddocks. . . . [O]ne wing
upstairs had [the marital] home that the children [and the
parties] lived in and the other wing was the staff
second property, referred to as "Lake George, " is
located in Lake George, New York. Husband purchased Lake
George in October 1997 for approximately $490, 000. Like
Hickstead, Lake George was titled in only Husband's name.
This property was "purchased, built and maintained as a
summer residence for the family" where they
"continue[d] to pursue and enjoy their horse activities
during that season while residing together as a family in New
York." The trial court explained that Husband paid the
expenses for Lake George with his independent funds. Wife was
never "a signatory on th[e] account nor [did] she ever
ha[ve] access to the account" that Husband used for Lake
George expenses. In April 2012, the fair market value of Lake
George was approximately $2.5 million.
trial court held a three-day trial during which both parties
presented extensive evidence, including testimony from both
Husband and Wife and other witnesses, such as accounting
experts. In the trial court's Final Judgment, it found,
in pertinent part:
Hickstead [and Lake George] were more than . . . mere
line item assets in the name of the Husband during their
marriage. [They] were and should be considered joint
marital assets of the Husband and Wife in equitable
distribution by this Court, the way they were considered
joint marital assets by the parties as they lived and raised
a family in these "assets." While there was
testimony from the Husband that he paid for these properties,
the Husband also testified that he did not tell the Wife
"one way or the other" whether she owned these
marital residences. The facts are that the Husband and
Wife treated their residential properties as marital assets.
The Court finds that the conduct of the parties, including
the conduct of the Husband, gives rise to the presumption
that the parties intended to hold these residences as marital
The Court finds that based upon the evidence and conduct
of the Husband, Wife and family during the marriage that
Hickstead [and Lake George] are interspousal gifts from the
Husband to the Wife.
sought rehearing on the trial court's Final Judgment,
"primarily challenging the trial court's
determinations as to the interspousal gift to the Wife of an
interest in [Hickstead] and Lake George."
Hooker, 174 So.3d at 511. As the Fourth District
explained, in its Amended Final Judgment, the trial court:
maintained its finding that, although the [Hickstead] and
Lake George properties were purchased with the Husband's
non-marital assets and were titled in his name alone, they
should be considered marital assets because the Husband made
an interspousal gift of an interest to the Wife, with their
actions showing joint ownership. However, based on the
rehearing, the trial court determined that an unequal
distribution was warranted because of the substantial
financial contribution of the Husband. Therefore, the court
awarded 66% interest in the [Hickstead] property to the
Husband and the remaining 34% to the Wife, and awarded 75%
interest in the Lake George property to the Husband and the
remaining 25% to the Wife.
supporting its conclusion that these properties were marital
assets, the trial court recognized that Husband owned other
pieces of real property that he treated differently than
Hickstead and Lake George, or less like interspousal gifts.
Specifically, the trial court stated, "In contrast to
the evidence presented at the Final Hearing regarding the way
the Husband exclusively handled his other real property,
assets and investments, [Hickstead and Lake George] were
treated as the joint family property of the Wife." Thus,
the trial court concluded that Husband's actions
substantiated donative intent with respect to Hickstead and
Husband appealed the trial court's Amended Final Judgment
to the Fourth District Court of Appeal. Upon review, the
Fourth District stated that it accepted the trial court's
factual determinations absent "an abuse of
discretion" and reviewed the trial court's legal
conclusions de novo. Id. (citations omitted). The
Fourth District affirmed the trial court's determination
as to Lake George but concluded that "the trial court
erred in finding that the Wife had an interest in the
[Hickstead] property by virtue of an interspousal gift."
Id. at 513. As to Hickstead, the Fourth District
Under the preponderance of the credible evidence standard
for finding donative intent, the facts found by the trial
court do not evidence a clear donative intent by the
Husband. . . . Rather, the facts regarding the
Wife's involvement with [Hickstead] simply evidence that
the Wife took care of her residence, regardless of ownership.
Id. (emphasis added).
to the trial court's equitable distribution schedule,
pursuant to section 61.075(1), Florida Statutes, the Fourth
District reviewed whether there was competent, substantial
evidence supporting the trial court's equitable
distribution. Id. at 515. The Fourth District
concluded that such evidence existed and the trial
court's findings conformed to the statutory factors and
affirmed the trial court's findings in its Amended Final
Judgment, except the determination that Hickstead was an
interspousal gift and, therefore, a marital asset.
Id. at 515-16 (citing § 61.075, Fla. Stat.
(2010)). Because it found that Hickstead ...