The division of assets and liabilities tends to be a fairly straight forward issue. The law says that there is to be an equitable division of your marital estate. Equitable almost always means equal and so what we do is begin by creating a balance sheet. And that balance sheet is going to outline first, all of the assets and debts that you have. And once we’ve captured all of those items we’ll go ahead and value those items.
Some of those values are received through various bank statements or credit card statements or retirement account statements, but some values need to be investigated further. We may need to, for example, have an appraisal done on your home. We may need to do a Kelley Blue Book analysis on a vehicle. We may need to have a business appraised if you and your spouse are the owners of a business.
Once we’ve got those values put together, we can then add up all of those pluses and minuses to arrive at something called your net marital estate. Now I say a marital estate because the law does carve out an exception for non-marital property.
A non-marital asset is something that was either inherited by one spouse or accrued prior to the marriage and there’s another segment that more fully addresses non-marital claims. But safe to say for now that any non-marital claim will be removed from the balance sheet or included on the balance sheet but as a zero.
So once we arrive at that net marital estate, we divide by two. Each of you is entitled to that amount of equity and then it’s a matter of horse trading. We need to figure out if one party is going to take the house and the other takes a particular bank account and another a different vehicle.
Once we add up those items, those are put into that spouse’s column so to speak. There will be an unequal distribution of the assets and so we need to come up with an equalizer.
Usually that’s done through a shift in dollars from a retirement account or perhaps one party will refinance the homestead and pay the other through that refinance. Of course, in some circumstances the litigants are going to sell the marital homestead and we often use those sale proceeds to equalize as well.
There really are only a few situations in which the property distribution becomes complicated. First, if there are business ownership issues, that can can make things a bit more complex because we need to hire, usually, a business appraiser to come in and value that business.
In addition, it could be rather complicated if there are some significant non-marital claims that are being made, and the party who is making that claim bears the burden of proving those claims. So again, generally it’s an equal division. There are opportunities for some complexity, but generally we do find that one of the less controversial issues involved in a divorce involves the property division.