Few things compare with the stress of getting a divorce. It’s not just the process of separating and seemingly taking on a new life. No matter how long you’ve been married, you’ve accumulated “things.” Figuring out who gets what can be a challenge. If you and your spouse can’t come to terms, there is an alternative. But, do you really want the judge to divide up your property?
You might be surprised at what constitutes marital property. It’s not just the treasured painting hanging over the fireplace. Or, the big screen television sitting in the family room. Believe it or not, even your family pets fall under this umbrella. Their fate is not a matter of custody. Instead, it all boils down to equitable distribution.
If your marriage was blissful, you most likely wouldn’t be considering divorce. Nothing is stopping you from battling over division of every pencil and fork in the household. That said, compromise works best in coming up with property settlements. Frankly, when the answers come from the parties – it’s far less expensive than letting the court decide.
Marital Settlement Agreements: Division of Property
When it comes down to it, there are three major issues when it comes to marriage dissolutions. If there are children, they become a primary focus as far as custody, parenting time, and child support. For some, spousal support is a consideration. However, division of property is a constant in every divorce.
The law regarding equitable distribution criteria is found in NJSA 2A:34-23.1. When the court makes determinations concerning division of property, it refers to this section of the law. Notably, the statute includes a “rebuttable presumption that each party made a substantial financial or nonfinancial contribution to the acquisition of income and property while the party was married.”
Notice that these are the directives that apply to the court deciding division of assets and debts. From the onset of filing for divorce, you will see that the focus seems to be on settling your case. The end goal is to come up with a Marital Settlement Agreement (MSA), otherwise referred to as a Property Settlement Agreement (PSA). In short, your attorney and the court want you to come up with your own answers.
While it’s one thing to fight over who keeps Fido, some property settlement disputes can somewhat border on bizarre. For example, there’s the husband who donated his kidney to his failing wife and expected remuneration. Although it’s old news and out of jurisdiction, you might be fascinated by the man who literally split his house in two as his own means of equitable distribution.
No doubt some of your property concerns are related to emotional ties. Meanwhile, some estranged couples are reluctant to come to property settlement agreements because they are angry – and, even vindictive. You’ve heard that “money is the root of all evil.” Truth be told, it is often the basis of many protracted divorce cases.
What is Subject to Equitable Distribution?
More than likely, you can already guess what marital property is subject to equitable distribution. However, if you’re not sure what is included, here are some items for consideration:
- Household items
- All vehicles acquired during the marriage
- Money accounts, including investment assets
- Businesses owned by one or both spouses
- Pensions, 401Ks or profit sharing accounts
- Lottery Winnings
Additionally, there’s the issue of debt shared by the parties. You and your ex should work on a solution that comes to terms concerning money you owe as a couple.
An experienced divorce attorney can provide counsel on some assets that may not be subject to equitable distribution. For example, the property you owned before you married may be excluded. Similarly, if you received an inheritance, your spouse should have no claim to it. However, this may be subject to debate if you comingled funds.