Throughout a marriage, couples often combine their incomes and bank accounts, making large purchases jointly and acquiring property that is shared between them. However, in the event of a divorce, this property must be divided between the two spouses. While some property is considered separate, most property obtained during the marriage is legally owned by both parties, and thus is subjected to equitable distribution between them.
Not all property is shared equally between the spouses. Non-marital property, also known as separate property, belongs to one spouse only and is not eligible for division between the spouses. In general, separate property includes anything owned by one party before the beginning of the marriage. Usually, all other assets are considered marital property.
Non-marital property may include any items or assets that:
- Were obtained by one spouse before the marriage began.
- Were gifted or inherited by one spouse.
- Were purchased with non-marital money or property
- Were specifically excluded from division because of a formal, legal agreement between the two parties.
- Were obtained by one party through a legal separation agreement.
All other property is usually considered jointly-owned, and thus is eligible to be divided between the spouses.
Once a court has decided whether items and assets are marital or non-marital, it must decide how to fairly divide them between the two parties. Most courts employ the principal of equitable distribution, in which property is not divided equally according to its monetary value, but instead by its relative value depending on a range of factors. The court may take into account the following considerations when distributing property:
- The contribution of either party to acquiring, maintaining, and increasing or decreasing its value.
- Wasteful or extravagant use or spending by either spouse
- The length of the marriage
- Each party’s future economic situation
- Standing obligations from previous marriages
- Each party’s health, age, occupation, skills, income source, amount of income, estate value, and personal needs
- Child custody
- Either spouse’s reasonable opportunity to acquire future income
- Increased taxes
The concept of equitable distribution was created in response to the idea that an equal division of assets is not always fair. For example, certain items may hold far more sentimental value to one party than the other. Or, the spouse who gains custody of the children may require more resources in order to provide adequate care. Courts employ equitable distribution on a case-by-case basis, and therefore it is important to have a knowledgeable and experienced attorney on your side to ensure that your belongings are divided fairly.
To learn more about the divorce process, visit the website of the Raleigh divorce lawyers at the Marshall & Taylor Law Firm.