Florida residency is required to take advantage of Florida’s asset protection laws including Florida’s broad homestead protection from creditor judgments. Whether a person is a Florida resident depends on their lifestyle and their contacts to Florida. Many people who originally lived and worked exclusively in northern states spend part of each year in Florida during retirement. Floridians refer to these people as “snowbirds.”
A Florida appellate court in the case of Margaret Roach and Thomas Roach v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company, recently considered whether a pair of Indiana snowbirds had established Florida residency for purposes of their taking advantage of certain Florida laws relating to motor vehicles. The court’s analysis is important for other snowbirds seeking protection of Florida’s property exemptions from creditor execution.
The relevant facts were that the snowbirds and defendants, a Mr. and Mrs. Hodges of Indiana resided in Florida typically each November through the following April. Mr. Hodges had an Indiana drivers license whereas Mrs. Hodges maintained a Florida license and applied for Florida homestead tax reduction. Mr. Hodges used their Indiana address for tax filings and voting.
The court found that even through Mr. and Mrs. Hodges each year spent more time in Indiana than in Florida their presence in Florida was not, “the transient or temporary presence of an occasional or regular visitor” . The court said that, “The Hodges established a significant degree of permanency in Florida by owning a home in Florida…, returning to reside in Florida for approximately five and on-half month every year …, and by garaging [a car] in Florida….” Noting that residency is a malleable legal concept that depends on its context and use, the court found that the Hodges were Florida residents for the purposes of the automobile law at issue.
This case illustrates that there are no universal tests to determine Florida residency, and that residency depends on the context and the parties’ demonstrated intent.
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