Tronconi v. Tronconi, 63368

Decision Date24 January 1985
Docket NumberNo. 63368,63368
Citation466 So.2d 203,10 Fla. L. Weekly 75
Parties10 Fla. L. Weekly 75 Felicia M. TRONCONI, Petitioner, v. Francis Joseph TRONCONI, Respondent.
CourtFlorida Supreme Court

Ira Marcus, Fort Lauderdale, for petitioner.

Philip Michael Cullen III, Fort Lauderdale, for respondent.

Marsha B. Elser, Chairman, Miami, Brenda M. Abrams, Chairman-elect, Miami, Miriam E. Mason, Tampa, Cynthia L. Greene, Miami, Stephen W. Sessums, Tampa, and Melvyn B. Frumkes, Miami, amicus curiae for The Family Law Section of The Florida Bar.

EHRLICH, Justice.

We review a decision of a district court affirming a property distribution in a marital dissolution proceeding. Tronconi v. Tronconi, 425 So.2d 547 (Fla. 4th DCA 1982). The decision conflicts with Leonard v. Leonard, 414 So.2d 554 (Fla. 2d DCA 1982), and Powers v. Powers, 409 So.2d 177 (Fla. 2d DCA 1982). We have jurisdiction pursuant to article V, section 3(b)(3), of the Florida Constitution.

Felicia and Francis Tronconi wed in 1955 in Connecticut. In 1981, their marriage was dissolved in a Florida court. During the course of the marriage, the couple at various times lived in Connecticut and Florida. Both worked as teachers and contributed financially to the acquisition of assets, although Mr. Tronconi was unemployed at the time of this divorce. At the time of the final hearing both parties were sixty years old. Although a variety of issues were raised by Mrs. Tronconi in her appeal to the Fourth District Court of Appeal, the appellate court addressed only one--the trial court's distribution of jointly held properties.

In the pleadings, both parties petitioned for temporary, permanent, and lump-sum alimony. Each party also asked to be awarded all jointly held real property, claiming special equities. In the alternative, each party asked that the property be partitioned and sold. The disputed joint properties consisted of the marital home in Broward County, a second house and land in Lake Placid, Florida, and some investment property on Great Abaco Island in the Bahamas.

At trial, Mr. Tronconi testified he wanted the house and one acre of land at Lake Placid where he was living after separating from his wife. He acquiesced to partition and sale of the rest of the Lake Placid property but did not testify regarding his wishes for disposition of the other properties. Mrs. Tronconi testified she wanted: partition of the entire Lake Placid property; title to the Great Abaco Island property (however, she also testified she would acquiesce to partition); and title to the marital home, where she continued to live.

The trial judge found no special equities and that partition "would not be in the best interests of either party." Instead, he awarded the marital home to Mrs. Tronconi and the Lake Placid and Great Abaco properties to Mr. Tronconi. The resulting distribution did not achieve a precisely equal division of value. However, the amount of debt owed on the properties and other factors were disputed by the parties, and the distribution may be found to be equitable by virtue of the trial judge's inherent findings of facts on those issues. The final order also disposed of other real and personal property appropriately. No alimony was awarded for the support of either party. The final order thus achieved a clean break from the bonds of matrimony and joint ownership.

Mrs. Tronconi, in her petition to this Court, challenges the district court's decision that, in the distribution of jointly held assets, a trial court may order the parties to convey their interests in the joint assets as part of a property distribution scheme. Mrs. Tronconi argues that, in the absence of any special claims on jointly held property, the court has no choice but either to partition the property upon application of either party, or to do nothing, which, upon dissolution, results in a tenancy in common. Ch. 64, Fla.Stat. (1981) (partition); § 689.15, Fla.Stat. (1981) (tenancy by entirety becomes tenancy in common upon dissolution).

We hold that, as a natural extension of the rule we adopted in Canakaris v. Canakaris, 382 So.2d 1197 (Fla.1980), the trial judge, upon a request by either party for disposition of jointly held assets, may order the conveyance of such assets as will achieve an equitable distribution.

In Canakaris, this Court held that a trial court could properly order a husband to convey his interest in the jointly held marital residence to his spouse as part of an equitable distribution of property. The Canakaris Court was concerned with the award of property in recognition of a wife's "special contributions" to a financially successful marriage. The "special claim" of such a spouse is not founded on the doctrine of special equity, a vested property right. Nor is this special claim grounded in the doctrine of support-type lump-sum alimony.

The Canakaris Court thus recognized a new justification for awarding lump-sum alimony to achieve an equitable distribution of assets. The focus was on the justification rather than on the means by which the trial court achieved the equitable distribution. The means was, of course, the trial court's award of the husband's interest in the marital home to the wife. In the instant case, the goal of a property disposition, an equitable distribution of the property, has been confused with the justification recognized in Canakaris, the award of an interest in property in the absence of a support obligation.

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....


Dissolution proceedings present a trial judge with the difficult problem of apportioning assets acquired by the parties and providing necessary support. The judge possesses broad discretionary authority to do equity between the parties and has available various remedies to accomplish this purpose, including lump sum alimony, permanent periodic alimony, rehabilitative alimony, child support, a vested special equity in property, and an award of exclusive possession of property. As considered by the trial court, these remedies are interrelated; to the extent of their eventual use, the remedies are part of one overall scheme. It is extremely important that they also be reviewed by appellate courts as a whole, rather than independently.

Canakaris, 382 So.2d at 1201-02.

"Justification" is a key operative word in awarding lump-sum alimony. The Canakaris Court recognized the traditional justification of support needs, and the new justification of a special claim. We are called on here to recognize another justification, the equitable disposition of interests in jointly held properties. We find that such a justification is proper and equitable.

In determining a party's need for support, the trial judge must anticipate the post-dissolution financial status of each party. If jointly held property is to remain untouched and subject to partition at the whim of either party subsequent to his final order, the trial judge is unable to ensure that the delicate balancing of equities achieved in his final order will not be thwarted. Likewise, where one or both parties have requested partition in the dissolution proceeding, partition may create inequities which the trial judge is unable to correct through the other remedies available to him. By allowing the trial judge also to utilize cross-awards of jointly held property, the goals of achieving an equitable distribution of assets and ensuring the support needs of the parties is furthered, and the...

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    • Florida Bar Journal Vol. 73 No. 11, December - December 1999
    • December 1, 1999
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