Canakaris v. Canakaris

Citation382 So.2d 1197
Decision Date31 January 1980
Docket NumberNo. 54124,54124
PartiesElaine P. CANAKARIS, Petitioner, v. John M. CANAKARIS, Respondent.
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Florida

William M. Barr, of Raymond, Wilson, Conway, Barr & Burrows, Daytona Beach, for petitioner.

Isham W. Adams, of Adams & Briggs, Daytona Beach, for respondent.

On Clarification

OVERTON, Justice.

This is a petition for writ of certiorari to review a decision of the First District Court of Appeal reported at 356 So.2d 858 (Fla. 1st DCA 1978). The district court reversed the trial court's award to the wife of the husband's undivided one-half interest in their marital home as lump sum alimony, the award of permanent periodic alimony, and attorney's fees. We find conflict with Yandell v. Yandell, 39 So.2d 554 (Fla.1949); Brown v. Brown, 300 So.2d 719 (Fla. 1st DCA 1974); and Calligarich v. Calligarich, 256 So.2d 60 (Fla. 4th DCA 1971). We have jurisdiction. 1 We reverse the district court and reinstate the judgment of the trial court.

This dissolution proceeding terminated a thirty-three-year marriage, the parties having married when the wife was seventeen and the husband twenty-one. The wife assisted the husband through college and worked in his first medical office and in the hospital started by her husband. This proceeding commenced in 1963 upon a complaint filed by the wife for separate maintenance on grounds of adultery and extreme cruelty. A temporary support order was entered in 1963, with which the parties complied until the final judgment for dissolution was entered in December, 1976. The issues in this cause concern the disposition of wealth accumulated during the marriage and the determination of alimony for the wife.

The financial statements of the parties reflected a significant accumulation of wealth during the marriage. The husband, a medical doctor, operated a hospital located on property owned by the parties. His admitted net worth was $3,749,930. A substantial portion of these assets had been acquired prior to the 1963 separation proceedings. The wife's net worth prior to the dissolution totaled no more than $292,000, and this amount is entirely from her share of jointly held properties, except for a $15,000 inheritance. These jointly held properties were acquired during the marital partnership and were not the result of any premarital or independent source, such as a gift or inheritance. The annual income for the husband from 1971 through 1975 was never less than $130,000, and in 1975 his income was $147,000. During this period the wife's annual income was approximately $1,000. Since their separation, the husband has acquired another home consisting of eighty acres valued at $430,000.

In the final judgment of dissolution, the wife was awarded lump sum alimony consisting of $50,000 in cash and the husband's interest in their jointly owned residence in which she was living; the residence was valued at $75,000. The wife further received the sum of $500 per week permanent periodic alimony and the automobile then in her possession. She retained her undivided one-half interest in the Bunnell General Hospital real estate, which was held by the parties as a tenancy by the entirety. Apart from periodic alimony, the wife received property and assets worth approximately $385,000, a majority of which consisted of her undivided one-half interest in the hospital real estate. The final judgment also directed the husband to pay the wife's attorney's fees in an amount to be set at a future hearing.

The district court reversed this final judgment, holding the award of the marital home as lump sum alimony improper because "(a) review of the record reveals no special equity of the wife in the marital home." 356 So.2d at 860. The court cited as authority Cann v. Cann, 334 So.2d 325 (Fla. 1st DCA 1976), which held that lump sum alimony should be awarded only where special equities require it or make it possible. The district court also found insufficient evidence indicating needs of the wife which would warrant the periodic alimony award of $500 per week. It remanded the periodic alimony award to the trial court for the limited purpose of "determining, based upon evidence, the needs of the wife." 356 So.2d at 860. Finally, the district court concluded that the award of attorney's fees was improper because the wife had the ability to pay for the services of her attorney. We reject each of these holdings by the district court.

Section 61.08, Florida Statutes, authorizes the trial judge to:

grant alimony to either party, which alimony may be rehabilitative or permanent in nature. In any award of alimony, the court may order periodic payments or payments in lump sum or both. . . . In determining a proper award of alimony, the court may consider any factor necessary to do equity and justice between the parties. (Emphasis supplied.)

In considering the appropriate criteria for the award of the different types of alimony, it is important that appellate courts avoid establishing inflexible rules that make the achievement of equity between the parties difficult, if not impossible.

The issues presented in this cause require an examination of criteria constituting "lump sum" and "permanent periodic alimony"; both are important elements in the determination of property disposition and support requirements in a dissolution proceeding. The related elements of "special equity" and "exclusive possession of property" are discussed in the accompanying case, Duncan v. Duncan, 379 So.2d 949 (Fla.1980). We recognize that the decisions in this subject area, both of this Court and of the district courts of appeal, are not reconcilable. It is our intent that these two opinions, to the extent possible, will bring some stability to this area of the law.

Lump Sum Alimony

The district court in the instant decision held that the award of the husband's one-half interest to the wife as lump sum alimony was inappropriate because she had no "special equity" in the marital home. The term "special equity" has regrettably been used by this Court and the district courts of appeal to justify both (1) a nonalimony property interest, and (2) an award of lump sum alimony. The use of the term "special equity" to identify facts which allow an award of lump sum alimony is in fact a misnomer and has caused confusion. To eliminate this confusion, it is necessary to distinguish the purposes for which the two types of "special equity" have been used.

The term "special equity" was created to describe a vested interest in property brought into the marriage or acquired during the marriage because of contribution of services or funds over and above normal marital duties. Eakin v. Eakin, 99 So.2d 854 (Fla.1958); Heath v. Heath, 103 Fla. 1071, 138 So. 796 (1932). This vested interest is not alimony. The "special equity" doctrine was developed to avoid the inequities of the existing statutory provision which denied alimony to an adulterous wife despite her special contribution of services or funds over and above normal marital duties. Although the statutory prohibitions underlying the formulation of the special equity doctrine no longer exist, this vested interest aspect of the doctrine remains a viable part of our case law.

The term "special equity" has also been used to justify an award of lump sum alimony. When employed in this context, it concerns only whether the equities of the case justify a lump sum award. The property interest or lien concept of "special equity" is entirely distinct from the determination of parties' equities in a lump sum alimony award. The term "special equity" should not be used when considering lump sum alimony; rather, it should be used only when analyzing a vested property interest of a spouse. See Ball v. Ball, 335 So.2d 5 (Fla.1976); Eakin v. Eakin; Heath v. Heath.

In granting lump sum alimony, the trial court should be guided by all relevant circumstances to ensure "equity and justice between the parties." § 61.08, Fla.Stat. This Court recognized in Yandell v. Yandell the broad scope of the trial judge's discretion in granting lump sum alimony, consistent with the statutory mandate. The "special equities" referred to in Yandell concern only the general equities of the case. We stated in Yandell :

(O)rdinarily . . . a lump award should be made only in those instances where some special equities might require it or make it advisable; for instance, where the wife may have brought to the marriage, or assisted her husband in accumulating, property. . . . There may be other situations which might justify or possibly require a lump sum award . . . . A lump sum allowance of permanent alimony is not "fit, equitable and just" unless the husband is in a position to make payment of the sum so granted over and above the requirements attendant upon the maintenance of his business or employment . . . .

(W)here the husband's financial condition is such as to enable him to respond to a gross allowance of alimony without jeopardy to his business, profession or employment it may be the better solution to grant such allowance when all other equitable considerations justify it . . . .

39 So.2d at 556-57 (citations omitted) (emphasis supplied). Yandell clearly does not limit the use of lump sum alimony to instances of support or vested property interests. A judge may award lump sum alimony to ensure an equitable distribution of property acquired during the marriage, provided the evidence reflects (1) a justification for such lump sum payment and (2) financial ability of the other spouse to make such payment without substantially endangering his or her economic status. Brown v. Brown. In our opinion, the award of the marital home as lump sum alimony may be coupled with other lump sum alimony or permanent periodic alimony awards if justified by the evidence. The collective use of such alimony awards has been approved recently by this Court in ...

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