When it comes to divorce, couples face two major property division issues. The first is deciding which property belongs to the couple and therefore must get divided. The second is the actual division of the marital property.
Marital vs. separate property
Most couples have at least some property in common, in addition to separate property. While the basic principle is marital property means assets that the couple acquired during their marriage, this is by no means an ironclad rule. Notably, assets such as some judgments, gifts and inheritance likely belong solely to the spouse who acquired them, no matter when.
On the other hand, separate property acquired before the marriage can become marital if the other spouse contributes to its upkeep or increases its value. For example, a wife may come into the marriage with a business she set up while single. However, for the next ten years, her husband invests significant effort into expanding it and increasing revenues. In such a case, courts may determine that at least part of the business is marital property.
Whatever assets comprise a couple’s marital property are subject to equitable division. Equitable division means that, rather than splitting everything 50/50, courts look to fairness as a standard. While this enables a court to exercise more flexibility, fairness can also be harder to define.
Most courts weigh all relevant circumstances when assessing what each spouse should get. Relevant factors can include the couple’s lifestyle, whether there are any children, the relative contributions of each spouse (including non-financial contributions), as well as any special circumstances such as disabilities.
Even couples with pre-nuptial agreements may end up in court. Especially after a long marriage, circumstances can change in ways neither of the parties could have predicted at the time of drawing up the agreement. You may now own types of property that your agreement never discussed. While courts still tend to enforce prenups strictly, they may find that the documents or some of its provisions cannot stand.
Not every potential legal issue in a Georgia divorce needs to be litigated. Divorcing couples can stipulate to issues they can agree on. They can also choose to pursue mediation rather than litigation, which may benefit some couples.
Property division in a divorce can be a complicated and stressful issue. If you are considering divorce, you need to think about your finances. It is important not to take any steps before speaking with an experienced lawyer, as you do not want later accusations of trying to hide or manipulate assets. A qualified attorney can help you safeguard your property interests effectively.