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Division of marital property: interspousal gifts and the issue of donative intent, P.2

Previously, we began looking at the issue of donative with respect to interspousal gifts. In determining whether a spouse had donative intent, in cases where this is in dispute, courts need to make sure there is enough evidence to support such a finding. In the decision we began looking at last time, the trial court sided with the husband—that the properties were separate.

That trial court’s decision was based on the “preponderance of evidence” standard, which requires sufficient evidence to prove that the requirements of the claim are more likely than not met. In reconsidering that decision, the court of appeals overturned the decision after determining the evidence didn’t meet the preponderance standard, but that decision was later overturned by the Supreme Court. 

The high court’s ruling was based on the principle that the appeals court’s duty was not to reweigh the evidence considered by the trial court, but simply to determine whether the trial had had “competent and substantial evidence” to rule the way it did. This generally means that the evidence was reliable, relevant, material and substantial enough to allow a reasonable person to conclude the same way.

In looking at the decision, some say it opens up the possibility for a broader interpretation of donative intent, even in cases where a couple has a prenuptial agreement. Others say the decision is not really about determining the donative intent of spouses but rather about the ability of courts to review trial court decisions on the matter.

The bottom line in the case is that donative intent, as with other civil matters, is proven by showing it is more likely than not that a spouse made a gift to the other. When this issue comes up in property division, it is important to have the guidance and advocacy of an experienced attorney to ensure a just division of assets. 

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