Once you and your spouse have made the difficult decision to divorce, one of the most difficult decisions you will face is how to divide up your property.
Since Missouri is an equitable distribution state, all assets, earnings, and debts that are accumulated during the marriage are divided equitably, but not necessarily equally. A judge may order one party to use separate property to make the settlement fair to both spouses.
Further, division of property doesn’t necessarily mean physical division. Instead, the court may award each spouse a percentage of the total value of the property, and it’s illegal for a spouse to hide assets in order to shield them from property division during a divorce.
Even in an equitable distribution state, it’s important to understand that some property can be considered separate property and not marital property. Separate property can include any property that was owned by either spouse prior to the marriage, an inheritance received by either spouse before or after the marriage, or a gift received by either spouse from a third party at any time. However, even separate property can lose its separate property status if it is commingled with marital property, such as if you deposit your inheritance from your parents into your joint bank account with your spouse.
All other property acquired during the marriage will likely be considered marital property, regardless of how that property is titled. So even if your retirement plan is titled in your name alone, guess what? It is marital property, and your spouse still has a right to some of it.
The court will consider several factors in equitable distribution, such as the length of the marriage, the income or property brought into the marriage by each spouse, the income and earning potential of each spouse, and the needs of the custodial parent to maintain the lifestyle for the children, amongst other factors.
Because there are so many variables, it’s difficult to predict how a judge will rule. Therefore, it’s a good thing if you and your spouse can agree on how to divide up the property and debts yourselves without court intervention.
If you are considering divorce, it’s important to retain the services of an experienced Missouri divorce attorney to protect your rights to your property.