You and your spouse likely worked hard throughout the duration of your marriage. You may have bought a house to raise a family in, purchased a vehicle or two for transportation, and maintained a career and put money into a retirement account. Unfortunately, things didn't go as planned and you now seek a divorce. All the assets you've acquired must now be split in some way, but how?
Missouri courts have adopted a system of equitable distribution to resolve property division disputes. Judges use this system to determine who gets what in a divorce. If you want to ensure that you don't get slighted in this flexible, yet unpredictable process, you should retain a skilled family law attorney. Equitable distribution attorneys at The Higher Level Legal Law Firm can help ensure your interests are considered in court.
What is Equitable Distribution?
Missouri, along with the majority of states in the nation, uses the equitable distribution system to resolve property division disputes.
Equitable distribution is defined as the division of marital assets and liabilities acquired during the marriage. This system is not to be construed as a method of allocating an identical division (50-50) of assets to each spouse. Rather, it is a system based on fairness.
The purpose of the equitable distribution system is to consider the financial circumstances of each spouse and to bring a determination that ensures each party receives a fair share of the marital property.
The more high-valued property there is to divide, the more complex and unpredictable the process becomes. This is why it's important for people who divorce -- especially those with higher net worths -- to seek the help of an experienced family law attorney to assist them throughout this process.
Identifying Marital Property and Non-Marital Property
Since state courts use the system of equitable distribution, and Missouri is a “dual property” state, judges are obliged to take into account two types of property before coming to a decision: marital property and non-marital property.
Marital property is essentially all property acquired by either spouse during the marriage. Missouri law presumes all property received by either spouse during a marriage is marital unless a spouse can prove otherwise. Whether a title is established under one spouse's name or both is irrelevant if it was obtained during the marriage.
As the case with many laws, there are exceptions to this rule, but they are hard to identify. To determine if an exception is applicable in your case, you should consult with a knowledgeable family law attorney.
Non-marital property, also known as separate property, is all property that is not marital. People generally consider the property acquired before a couple marries as non-marital property. Although this is true in most circumstances, there are some types of non-marital property that can be acquired during a marriage. Examples of non-marital property obtained during marriage include:
- property through inheritance
- a gift from an outside party
- property via a prenuptial agreement, or
- property acquired using a non-marital property asset.
For example, you bought a condo before you were married. After marrying, the condo remains a non-marital property asset. If you sell the condo and invest the money in stocks and bonds during the marriage, these newly obtained stocks and bonds would likely also be classified as non-marital property, since the initial non-marital property (the condo) was used to buy the stocks and bonds. All claims that an asset should be regarded as non-marital property within a marriage must be proven. In this example, you would be required to present evidence the funds used to buy the stocks and bonds originated from the condo that you acquired before getting married.
It's important to note while both marital and non-marital property are taken into account, a judge is only responsible for the distribution of marital property. Non-marital property will be considered when good reason exists. Suppose one spouse had a large quantity of non-marital property before marrying and the other spouse had none. With this in mind, the court may distribute more marital property to the other spouse to deliver a “fair” determination.
Factors of Division
An equitable distribution outcome is contingent upon a number of factors taken into consideration by Missouri courts. Judges rely on these factors when enforcing a “fair” determination in the division of property disputes.
Factors of division include but are not limited to:
- The duration of the marriage
- The age and relative health of each spouse
- The spouses' separate economic circumstances (prospects for future income, ability to earn, how they're currently doing financially)
- How much (if any) contributions each spouse made to the acquisition of property
- The value of each spouse's non-marital property
- The spouse's behavior (in relation to spending) during the marriage
- Custodial arrangement for minor children.
Some of these factors are subjective in nature, which makes for a relatively versatile system. With numerous variables to consider and room for interpretation, it is difficult for each spouse to predict the distribution results.
Missouri Family Law Attorney
An overarching sentiment echoed in this overview has been that property division cases in Missouri are unpredictable. The only way to gain some control of your circumstances is to retain a family law attorney. Equitable distribution lawyers at Higher Level Legal Law Firm have extensive experience representing spouses in property division proceedings, so we've witnessed it all. We can help provide you with options and ensure that your interests and concerns are heard and considered in court. For more information or for a consultation, contact us today at (816) 331-9968.