Division of Marital Assets / Equitable Distribution
When you were first married, you and your spouse both came to the marriage offering unique talents and access to different resources. Over the years, you worked together to earn and acquire property, business interests, savings, and other assets that helped you build the life you have today.
Now, as you navigate the process of divorce, it is time to face the difficult question of just how to divide all those things you worked so hard to maintain. In some cases, spouses easily agree on what should go to whom, but in many other cases, it can be difficult to divide that life.
In either case, it is important to understand how the Commonwealth of Virginia approaches the distribution of assets and debt and how those rules will impact your life going forward.What is Equitable Distribution in Virginia?
Every state addresses the question of asset division a little differently, so where you live matters in a divorce. Virginia is one of many states that approaches this important topic with a system known as equitable distribution. Equitable distribution is the idea that the assets should be divided fairly between the parties. Under this system, the courts look at each asset and determine which category it would fall under:
- Marital property: Marital property is defined as all property, other than separate property, acquired from the date of marriage to the date of separation.
- Separate property: Separate property is “all property acquired by either spouse before the marriage or all property acquired during the marriage by inheritance or by a gift.” Each spouse will retain sole possession of any separate property.
- Hybrid property: This category can be complex. It is often related to property that originated as separate property, but some influence or work by both spouses in the marriage has maintained its value or led to an increase in worth. In some situations, it refers to property that is simply impossible to identify after having been mixed with other marital property over the years, such as inheritance put into a joint savings account many years ago. The most common form of hybrid property are retirement accounts.
Once an asset or a debt is categorized, then it must be decided which party will take possession. Separate property remains with the spouse who brought it to the relationship. Marital property must be examined to determine who will take possession.Fair Does not Always Mean Equal in a Virginia Divorce
It is important to note that state’s goal of “fairly” dividing marital property does not necessarily mean equal division. The distribution is affected by a number of factors, and Virginia’s system leaves a considerable amount of leeway for a judge to decide what should be awarded to whom. Some factors that are typically considered include:
- Contributions to the well-being of the family, including both monetary and non-monetary contributions;
- Contributions to the acquisition and maintenance of property;
- The length of the marriage;
- The age and health of each spouse;
- The circumstances of the divorce (if one party is at fault, for example);
- How and when property was acquired;
- The debts of each spouse and how they were accrued; and
- Tax consequences of the division.
This means that a parent who spent time at home can still be successful in securing marital assets, even if he or she did not contribute financially to acquiring those assets. Retirement or investment accounts, even if they are only in the name of one spouse, can also be shared by both spouses. Additionally, division does not always mean physical distribution. In some cases, the judge will award one party a part of the value of the property and work that percentage into the overall division.How Our Fairfax Divorce Lawyers can Help Protect Your Assets
Over the course of a marriage, especially those with many assets, the line between “what is mine and yours and ours” can become blurry. This can make it difficult to divide both assets and debt. In some cases, spouses and their lawyers can negotiate an agreement that is acceptable to all parties. In many others, however, this is not possible and it will be up to the courts to decide who gets what. In either case, it is important to have a vigorous, experienced advocate on your side to make sure your rights are protected and your future will be secure.
While spouses often do not want to seem greedy or selfish, it is important to make sure you are awarded the property that you deserve and that will help set you up for a financially safe future. Additionally, an experienced attorney can help you examine and understand all the assets that may be part of your divorce. Then, you can ensure you fully understand the future possibilities and implication of each asset (or debt) and prepare your case to fight for what you need.
Please contact us at 703-865-7480 to set a consultation.