The Significance of Hooker v. Hooker in Prenuptial Agreements

Prior to entering into a marriage, parties may seek to establish prenuptial agreements in an effort to protect their interests (financial, property, etc.) in the event of a dissolution of marriage. In order to be effective, these prenuptial agreements must be incredibly detailed, thorough and must effectively convey the parties’ interests. Hooker v. Hooker is an example of what can happen when parties are not clear, and the Court decides to weigh the intentions of the parties rather than the expressed intentions of the agreement.

Timothy and Nancy Hooker had a prenuptial agreement that contained provisions stating that each party would keep their premarital property during the marriage. This included the presumed understanding that neither party had an interest in the other parties’ pre-marital property. However, despite the existence of the agreement, the Supreme Court determined that the premarital properties were in fact marital property subject to equitable distribution upon the dissolution of the marriage. As it presently stands, this opinion may impact people with prenuptial agreements which are designed to protect their premarital property. The opinion may also change the way non-marital property can potentially become marital property even when title has never been transferred to the party that did not initially possess the title. Finally, the opinion may impact other property determinations based on claims that a spouse transferred interest in property to the other spouse during the marriage in the form of a gift.

One may reasonably conclude that Mr. Hooker was conducting himself under the understanding that he and Mrs. Hooker were operating under the understanding of their prenuptial agreement. For example, when Mr. Hooker purchased his properties with premarital assets, Mrs. Hooker understood that she had no interest in the real property even when she chose to purchase furniture or when she was given a key. Mr. Hooker may have reasonably believed that neither of the events constructively conveyed donative intent based on the existence of their prenuptial agreement. This belief would have been relatively consistent with currently practiced family law principles. Ordinarily, if a party gets married with a prenuptial agreement, and they have premarital property, unless they change the title to the property, that property always remains to the party it initially belonged to. This has been in the case law in Florida forever.

In this case, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the wife’s claims that the husband made an interspousal gift of his pre-marital real properties to his wife. This decision was based on a determination of the husband’s intent and how the parties “treated” the real properties at issue. (The parties lived in one home and spent summers in the other). It is important to note that in making this decision, the Court also acknowledges that title to the properties was never transferred to the wife. In essence, while the Court acknowledged that the prenuptial agreement was valid, one would argue that the issue with the agreement was that it did not consider factors preventing the concept of “interspousal gift’” based on the parties’ interactions related to real properties. This calls to question that the agreement itself was not detailed enough to protect the husband’s interests in his real property purchased with premarital assets. Thus, the parties’ intentions were weighed considerably in the Supreme Court’s decision.

This decision determines whether non-marital property would easily be converted into marital property based on the parties’ actions over the years of their marriage; even when there is no title change on the property. It must also be noted that the courts never examined the Florida standards for a gift, which is critical in this case because the final element of a gift requires that the gifting party must relinquish ownership or control over the asset. Here, the court never addressed how it was established that the husband relinquished his interest in the property such that would satisfy the final element of a gift in order to make this ruling stand.

This decision prompts us to ensure that interspousal gifts, among other things, are clearly addressed in drafting prenuptial agreements to prevent the Court’s departure from case law in rulings related to the equitable dissolution. Contact Samantha Sauer here at The Kendrick Law Group today to ensure that your interests are protected. (407) 641-5847

Hooker v. Hooker: https://efactssc-public.flcourts.org/casedocuments/2015/1881/2015-1881_disposition_138428.pdf

Co-written by: Kirsten Williams, Law Clerk

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