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August 07, 2019

What belongs to whom? Dividing household assets during a divorce

Family Law Divorce

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During the course of a marriage, couples accumulate what is known as the “marital estate.” During the divorce, that estate must be divided — a process that is complicated by the state in which the divorce is taking place, length of the marriage, and type of assets/liabilities.

Most significant to people when getting divorced are the big ticket items, such as houses or retirement accounts. However, over the course of a longer marriage, couples can accumulate a significant amount of smaller assets that, in aggregate, have significant value. Stephanie J. Zane, Esquire, a partner at Archer & Greiner, P.C. notes keeping a list of all assets, including bank, retirement, and investment accounts, college accounts, stocks, bonds, vehicles and even frequent flyer miles, vacation payouts, and collectibles, etc. and whether these assets existed at the time of your marriage, can assist your divorce attorney in providing you with the most comprehensive advice regarding the division of your assets. Zane also suggests creating a list of all liabilities, including mortgages, student loans, credit cards, and proof of any loans that you or your spouse may have received from others, such as parents, etc. Gathering statements and other relevant information will help your attorney identify the assets that are subject to equitable distribution as well as assist with the valuation of those assets.

Statistics confirm that first marriages last, on average, 12 years, with more than 50 percent of those marriages ending in divorce. During that time, couples typically accumulate wealth and assets together. An attorney can assist with the identification of assets subject to equitable distribution, which are generally those assets acquired from the date of the marriage through the date of Complaint for Divorce filing, states Jennie A. Owens, Esquire, an associate with Archer & Greiner, P.C. Owens further elaborates that assets are not necessarily divided on an equal basis in equitable distribution states such as New Jersey and Pennsylvania, but a court must determine the most equitable manner of distributing the available assets, as well as the existing liabilities. Because assets are not simply cut in half, having counsel to represent you and advocate for your position in the equitable distribution process is vital.

During equitable distribution, the court considers a number of factors in dividing property, which requires a fact specific analysis of each marriage. Effective counsel for both parties can help advocate during the typically emotional process of a divorce to ensure that each party receives a fair division of the marital estate.

While great counsel can help divorcing couples consider all their options, it is up to the individual in the marriage to accurately catalog their assets. Essential to the divorce process is disclosure of assets and liabilities. Withholding of information can only force the unnecessary incurrence of counsel fees and costs, while complicating an already difficult situation.

Preparation, transparency and effective advocacy can help a litigant achieve the best possible outcome for their family.

MORE: Child Custody: A divorce’s most important decision