Spouses spend years building a life together, which naturally includes acquiring new assets. These assets, along with any other property owned by either spouse, are considered part of the marital estate and subject to property division in the event of divorce. Normally, this split is roughly 50/50, but this allocation is not set in stone, and may be deviated from if the facts of the case require a different outcome to achieve a fair result. Courts must analyze a long list of factors to ascertain how marital property should be divided, but generally, the split does not deviate far from the 50/50 split unless certain issues are present.
One additional situation that may justify an unequal split was considered by an Indiana court of appeals, and the judges upheld a lower court ruling that deviated from the presumption of equal division in divorce. In this case, the couple was together just 24 days, and the husband contributed all the assets and financial resources to the marriage, amounting to $3 million. The wife was allotted only $35,000 of the net proceeds from the sale of the home in the final judgment. Property division is an issue that touches all couples considering divorce, and a discussion of what may convince a court to consider an equal split, as well as how courts evaluate property division generally, will follow below.
When a Court May Consider an Unequal Division
In a marriage, each spouse makes contributions to the relationship and the household. Whether that contribution is in the form of income, childrearing, maintaining the household, or helping a spouse obtain training/education, the values of these contributions are recognized in a divorce through a presumption that the property division should be equal. Exceptions to this rule exist when an equal split would be unjust under the circumstances, and certain situations are more likely to persuade a court that an unequal division is appropriate. Starting with the scenario described above, marriages of very short duration can result in an unequal division, especially if one spouse contributed most or all the assets to the union. Another alternative allows the court to essentially leave each spouse with the same assets he/she brought into the marriage, an attractive option if little to no commingling occurred.
In addition, bad acts by a spouse can also justify an unequal division of property, such as domestic violence, wasting marital assets, or hiding property to avoid division in divorce. Basically, any act that actively deprives a spouse of the ability to acquire an asset in divorce typically has a big impact on what a court will deem a fair division.
How Courts Decide
Since the presumption is for an equal division, any analysis the court would conduct surrounding this issue would be to determine if a deviation from that standard should be applied. To do so, the judge looks at a list of factors that attempts to assess whether an equal division would be unfair. A party seeking to avoid an equal division must present evidence supporting this claim, and how it relates to the following factors:
- The contribution each spouse made to the acquisition of assets;
- How much property was acquired by each spouse before marriage or through inheritance or gift (typically considered separate property, but not always);
- The economic circumstances of each spouse;
- The conduct of each spouse related to the dissipation or accumulation of assets; and
- The earning ability of each spouse.
Each case is fact specific, and needs the attention of an experienced divorce attorney to produce a strong case capable of achieving the desired outcome.
Contact a Divorce Attorney
Without knowing the ins and outs of the divorce process, a spouse can be at a real disadvantage if he/she decides to handle a case alone. The laws and procedures that govern divorce are numerous and complicated, and getting it wrong can cost you important rights. Christopher L. Arrington, P.C. knows the obstacle you are facing and will work to get you the best possible outcome. Contact the Danville law firm to schedule an appointment.