Property division: Can a court divide your assets unequally?

Can a court choose to divide family property unequally after a divorce? Property division is one of the more contentious subjects when a marriage is dissolving, and most partnerships strive for an equitable distribution of property. However, in some cases, it is considered “significantly unfair” to divide property equally — in those situations, the court may choose a fair, but unbalanced, property division plan.

What are some of the determining factors when it comes to dividing property after a divorce? A marriage that has lasted for 40 years will have a dramatically different divorce proceeding than a marriage that lasted for four months. The courts consider the length of the relationship, as well as the presence of any written legal contracts such as prenuptial and postnuptial agreements. Further, courts often consider how much the spouses contributed to the other person’s career, certifications and success. For example, if you put your wife through medical school, she has a credential that you helped “purchase,” which could lead to a variance in the division of property.

What about dividing debts? In some cases, one spouse is surreptitiously plunging the couple into debt without notifying his or her partner. Should the other spouse be held accountable for those financial woes? What about situations in which the family’s debt is larger than their total property? These are tricky issues that often weigh each spouse’s ability to pay debts, along with the actions that contributed to the accumulation of those debts.

How can I promote my own interests during property division? A family lawyer, along with a skilled financial planner, can help you and your spouse understand your financial situation so that you can seek the property division setup that you deserve. Division of marital debt, retirement accounts and business assets can be tricky, depending on their formation. Protect your property interests by seeking legal advice well before the property division process begins.

Source: Legal Services Society, “Is unequal division of family property and debt possible?,” accessed Nov. 04, 2015

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