Many people believe that divorce is simply the ending of a marriage. However, the reality is that the dissolution process involves several key factors, including division of property, determining custody of the divorcing couple’s children, and ongoing maintenance arrangements. One of the most complex aspects of any divorce in Springfield, MO, is the division of property.
If you expect to divorce in the near future, it is important to understand how property division works under Missouri state law. Like many other states in the Midwest, Missouri upholds an equitable distribution statute aimed at providing the fairest possible division of property. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for people starting the divorce process in Springfield, MO, to misunderstand how equitable distribution works.
What Does Equitable Distribution Mean?
First, it is vital not to conflate the term “equitable” with “equal.” Missouri state law upholds an equitable distribution law that strives to ensure the fairest possible division of marital property in a divorce. By contrast, some states uphold equal community property laws that ensure strict 50/50 division of marital property. While the equitable distribution process is more complex, it typically leads to more agreeable results for all parties involved than policies in community property states.
The first step in an equitable distribution determination is identifying the full extent of the divorcing couple’s marital property. To do so, it is vital to differentiate between “separate” property that belongs to just one spouse and “marital” property that belongs to both spouses equally under Missouri state law.
Separate property typically includes assets owned before the marriage began, gifts, and inheritances. In some cases, separate property transmutes to marital property when it meets specific requirements. For example, if one spouse can prove there was a donatory intent with a marital property, or if one spouse’s contributions increased the value of the other’s separate property, the property in question may technically qualify as marital property.
How Does a Judge Determine Equitable Division of Marital Property?
The second phase of equitable distribution is the actual division of marital property. When this decision falls to a Springfield, MO family court, the judge must assess multiple factors to reach the fairest possible determination in the matter, including:
- Each spouse’s income and earning capacity. This typically leads to the lower-earning spouse receiving a greater share of marital property.
- Each spouse’s conduct as it relates to marital property. For example, if there is evidence that one of them intentionally wasted marital assets or attempted to hide assets to guard them from property division, a judge will view their actions poorly. The result could influence the judge’s decision in favor of the other spouse.
- Divorcing parents’ custody rights if children are involved. If one parent receives greater custody rights than the other, this will almost always influence the judge’s decision when it comes to property division.
- Any prenuptial contract. If the couple has a prenuptial agreement, the court will review it to determine whether it is fair, reasonable, and legally enforceable.
- The amount of separate property each spouse owns. For example, if one spouse owns substantially more assets than the other, it is likely the judge will strive to make up the difference by awarding the other spouse a greater share of marital property.
These are just some of the most crucial factors a judge must consider when they must deliver a ruling on property division in a divorce case. Ultimately, the judge has the final say. Many couples divorcing in Springfield, MO, prefer to explore alternative dispute resolution in lieu of divorce litigation.
Can I Negotiate Property Division Privately in Missouri?
Many married couples who decide to divorce are choosing divorce mediation in lieu of traditional litigation because of the advantages this form of alternative dispute resolution provides. These advantages are particularly clear when it comes to property division. If you and your spouse are both willing to negotiate privately in mediation, you can keep your property division determination firmly within your own control.
This method is beneficial because it allows you and your spouse to reach a more personalized agreement than public litigation. When a judge must determine equitable division of property in a Springfield, MO divorce, they refer to the strict legal statutes listed above. In addition, they do not have access to the personal aspects that may determine the most logical and suitable way to divide the couple’s property.
Financial Disclosure in Missouri Divorce
Regardless of whether you and your spouse move to trial or explore alternative dispute resolution to handle your divorce, financial disclosure requires careful consideration. Financial disclosure means providing complete and accurate information that clearly lists all relevant details about all your property and assets. Both you and your spouse must provide a complete list of all separate property you intend to claim, as well as records of all marital property and assets. The property division proceedings in your divorce case will largely consist of reviewing these disclosures and comparing them against one another to check for any discrepancies.
Unfortunately, some people heading for divorce attempt to hide assets or intentionally waste marital assets out of a desire for personal gain or to spite their soon-to-be ex-spouse. These are unwise decisions the court will eventually reveal. If the court discovers that you or your spouse intentionally hid or squandered marital assets for personal gain, you should expect these actions to carry significant consequences. In some cases, hiding marital assets can lead to fraud charges.
Work With a Reputable Springfield, MO Divorce Attorney
Property division in a Springfield, MO divorce can be a complicated issue. One of the best things you can do to make this, and all aspects of your divorce, proceed more smoothly is to hire an experienced divorce attorney to represent you. Whether you are expecting a protracted court case or intend to take advantage of alternative dispute resolution, the right attorney will make a tremendous difference in the outcome of your case. If you are unsure what to expect when it comes to property division, contact an experienced Springfield, MO divorce attorney as soon as possible.