Couples typically start amassing property very early in a relationship, and this accumulation increases dramatically as soon as a couple gets engaged and begins planning the wedding in earnest. At this point, they start to receive gifts from friends and relatives, in addition to their own purchases, toward helping the couple build a household together. Once married, joint purchases tend to get larger as houses and cars are added to the mix in relation to career advancement and the birth of children. In fact, it may be hard to remember what property either spouse owned before marriage, but this issue becomes very important if spouses decide to divorce. Property division can quickly become a contentious issue in divorce cases as each side often feels their contribution to the household should entitle them to a larger share. Ideally, divorcing spouses can decide how to divide their property in a private settlement agreement, but if such an agreement is not possible, a court will allocate the property according to the rules established under Michigan law. An overview of how courts decide this issue in divorce cases will follow below.
Standard for Property Division
Property division in Michigan divorce cases starts from the premise the couple’s marital property should be divided equitably. While this can lead to an equal division of marital property, the driving force behind the court’s decision is what would be a fair division in this particular marriage. If one spouse is more at fault for the breakdown of the marriage, or one spouse needs additional support to maintain an acceptable standard of living, one spouse may receive a lesser or greater share of the assets when necessary. Marital debt is also divided during divorce, but it is important to note that third party creditors are not bound by a divorce judgment and may still go after a person for payment of a debt that was assumed by the other spouse if he/she is named on it. However, if a spouse takes on debt, he/she usually gets to keep the property associated with it.
When courts try to determine what would an equitable division of property, they look to a number of factors, including:
- how long the couple was married;
- the standard of living and financial resources of each party;
- how the property was acquired and who paid for it;
- past behavior of the parties, i.e., did one spouse acquire the bulk of the debt;
- the children’s needs; and
- the ages of the parties.
What Is Marital Property?
One of the central issues to any decision on property division relates to what qualifies as marital property. Anything acquired after the date of the marriage up until the date of the divorce decree is assumed to marital property and subject to division. Thus, anything owned before the marriage, even during the time a couple lived together, does not qualify as marital property. Additionally, inheritances given to a single spouse that is kept separate from marital property is not subject to division. However, separately owned property can become marital in part if any appreciation or increase in value came from the efforts or financial contribution of the other spouse. Further, if separate property is placed in joint account or routinely used for marital purposes, it could be considered marital.
Talk to a Divorce Attorney
Property division is a key issue in divorce, and it is important to receive an accurate valuation of what a couple’s marital estate may be worth. An experienced divorce lawyer will know how best to evaluate an asset’s worth and use this information to get a fair division of assets. The Clinton Township law firm of Iafrate & Salassa, P.C. works with clients to understand and execute their goals for property division, and they can help you. Contact us for a free consultation.