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Property Division Law – Sounds simple, but it never is…

What’s mine is mine and what’s yours is yours….except in California and other community property states. Property division law varies a lot from one state to the next. The differences in law have become more and more problematic as our society become more mobile.  Take the Navy or Marine Corps service member who enlists in North Carolina and then later, while living in California, sues or is sued for divorce. I deliberately chose two states whose property division laws (and other family court related laws) are as different as night and day.

A couple who has been married for any considerable length of time usually accumulates assets together, and debts, too. When the breakup happens, there can be considerable confusion about what rights each person has. Does each spouse automatically get half of ‘everything’? What happens to inheritance money, gifts, wedding rings, engagement rings, gifts from one spouse to the other during the marriage? The house that (a) belonged to one spouse before marriage but the couple refinanced together; (b) was purchased by the couple during marriage but because of bad credit which accrues in the name of one spouse only is refinanced at a later date by the other spouse, and the spouse with bad credit is required by the title company to sign a Quitclaim Deed or an Interspousal Transfer Deed before they will fund the refinance?

The list of questions and answers is nearly endless for property division law. But here’s the really, really basic rule: Assets accumulated during marriage with earnings of either spouse get split 50-50. Debts incurred by either spouse during marriage, no matter whether only one or both names are on the account, are the equal obligation of each spouse. If that’s all there is, your case will be simple-ish. But that’s usually not everything. There may be stock options from one spouse’s employer, pension which was earned partly before marriage and partly during, etc. It is these “mixed properties” that can be pitfalls for the unwary and simultaneously an opportunity for an attorney to devise some creative arguments and strategies to maximize his / her client’s position. Don’t assume you’ve covered all your bases until you’ve talked to a competent attorney about all the facts of your particular situation.

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