One of the most anxiety-producing aspects of a divorce can be trying to divide your property. How do you start? How do you determine what’s rightfully yours?
While some states take a community property approach and generally aim for a 50/50 split, Maryland uses a more flexible “equitable” approach. This means that the marital estate is supposed to be divided fairly, even if that isn’t equal.
What does that mean, in practical terms?
First, before you can divide anything, you have to decide what’s part of the marital estate and what isn’t. This includes not only assets but any debts that you happen to share.
For the most part, any assets or debts that either of you acquired before your marriage, along with inheritances and gifts, will be separate property. (It’s important to note, however, that separate property can become marital property if it’s commingled in some way, such as when inheritance money is put in a joint savings account.) Unless there’s a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement in play, everything that’s left is subject to division.
Once you know what’s subject to division, you have to take stock of it all and attach values to everything. This includes both assets and liabilities. This is when real negotiations often start. To decide what’s fair, you have to look at things like:
- If retirement funds are involved, were those meant to provide for both parties in the future?
- What sort of contributions did each person make (financially or through their labors) to the household?
- Was one spouse responsible for more of the debts than the other, and were those debts accrued for their personal benefit or for the couple’s joint benefit?
- If there’s a business involved, is one spouse primarily involved and the other in a supporting role, or are they equals?
Sometimes, the answers to questions like these make the path forward very clear – but not always. When you’re involved in a complex property division process, legal guidance can be invaluable.