THE BLOG

Divorce Air Wars

04/27/2013 05:41 am ET | Updated Jun 27, 2013
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I have only been fortunate enough to purchase a flight using travel points a few times in my life. But, when I did, it was a very satisfying purchase. In one instance, I flew across the country using points that took years to accumulate. It felt great. I earned that flight. So, it comes as no surprise that my divorce clients covet their travel points and are often surprised that they might have to share their points with a divorcing spouse.

In Florida, these travel points (frequent flyer miles, hotel points, rewards points, etc.) are considered a marital asset subject to equitable distribution if the points were earned during the marriage. If the points or a portion of the points were earned prior to the marriage, then the points earned prior are considered a non-marital asset and not subject to equitable distribution. Sometimes it is hard to determine what the cash value of these points will be during the division of assets. If the airline or hotel places an actual cash value on the points, then it's simple. But often they do not, and the points vary in value depending on which flight or hotel property you wish to use, and what season or day you wish to use the points. The airlines or hotels tend to be very vague on the actual value of the points, which makes it hard for one spouse to simply give the other spouse cash to buy out the interest in the travel points.

The best solution, if there is no actual cash value, is to contact the airline and have them divide the points into two separate accounts. Both spouses can take an account and use the points as they wish, independent of the other spouse. Be mindful that some airlines will charge transfer fees, which need to be considered in any equitable distribution schedule or settlement. Also, some rewards programs specifically forbid the transfer of points to anyone or by any means, even if it is stated in a divorce decree. If the airline will not allow you to split the points, then one spouse will have to maintain the points and agree to distribute one half to the other spouse upon request. The spouse who is in charge of the points would be responsible for booking the flight or hotel room for the ex-spouse. This requires both parties to cooperate and communicate with each other, which might not be the best option for some couples. Others could agree to set aside the points for children or other family members to use. It's important that you do some research regarding the mechanics and specifics surrounding the points so that your family lawyer is fully informed when going into settlement negotiations or a final hearing. Another concern is that often travel points expire after a period of time. There may be fees associated with "renewing" the points, which also need to be considered in any marital settlement agreement.

I once had a client agree to send his spouse and his children on one last vacation. This was a parting gift of sorts and he agreed to use his travel points to send them on a trip of their choosing. He in turn kept the remaining points, if any, that were left. Unfortunately, having a client willing to be that generous is the exception and not the norm.

If your travel points are a prized possession that you couldn't imagine giving up in a divorce, then you should do as much research as possible so that your attorney is fully informed when it comes the rules for transfer of points. Or, you could use the points and take your family on that nice vacation you always wanted take them on before it is too late.

To learn more about all family law matters, please contact Stann at http://www.familylawfirmflorida.com