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How Will Your Property Be Divided in a Maryland Divorce?

patrickcrawford | April 19, 2021
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Every divorce must address the division of property, and this can be a complex matter for many people. Make sure you have the help of an Annapolis divorce lawyer who can protect your rights. 

While divorce can be emotionally difficult, there are also many practical considerations. One of the most universally difficult elements of any divorce is the division of marital property, which can end up being the sticking point that lands your divorce in court. If you are facing a divorce, you owe it to your financial future to work closely with an experienced Annapolis divorce lawyer

First Things First: Is It Marital Property?

The division of your marital property can play a significant role in your post-divorce finances, but before you get down to dividing this property between yourself and your soon-to-be ex, you’ll need to determine what is marital property and what is separate property.

Marital Property

Marital property refers to that property that you and your spouse acquired while you were a married couple. This is true regardless of who made the purchase, who used the property or asset purchased, and whose name is on the deed or title. If it is an asset (or debt) that you acquired while you were married, chances are very good that it qualifies as marital property. Exceptions include:

  • Gifts that were given to only one of you
  • Inheritances that were in only one of your names
  • Purchases made with funds that belonged to only one of you

Separate Property

Those assets that either of you brings into the marriage – and that you keep separate throughout – remain your separate property and will follow you into divorce. Marriage being what it is, however, the line between separate property and marital property is not always so easily defined. Consider the following common examples:

  • If you bring a retirement account into your marriage with you, it is your separate property, but as the account grows in value, that increase in value is very likely to be considered marital property. 
  • If you bring a business into your marriage with you, it will begin as separate property, and if you carefully keep it separate throughout your marriage, it may remain separate property. If it increases in value (the way businesses often do), however, that increase will likely be considered marital property. Further, if you run the business but don’t pay yourself a fair wage, the attendant decrease in your family’s earnings will nudge your business closer to marital property. And if you and your spouse both worked for the business, the matter becomes more complicated still. 

An Equitable Division

Many divorcing couples believe their marital property will be split directly down the middle, but that’s not exactly how it works. Maryland is an equitable distribution state, which means your marital property will be divided equitably. This means fairly – given all of the relevant circumstances. Further, Maryland doesn’t begin with the presumption that your marital property will be divided equally (barring a compelling reason for not doing so), which is the stance that a few equitable distribution states take. In other words, it’s complicated, and the equitable division of your marital property will be utterly unique to your marriage. 

The Factors Considered by the Court

In making its decision regarding the division of your marital property in divorce, the court will take a variety of factors into careful consideration, including:

  • The length of your marriage
  • What each of you contributed (financially and otherwise) to the well-being of your family
  • You and your spouse’s separate economic circumstances
  • You and your spouse’s ages, your health, and your physical and mental condition
  • How and when specific assets were acquired (if their status as a marital asset is in question)
  • Whether either of you contributed separate property to your marital property
  • Whether one of you will be awarded alimony and/or possession of the family home
  • Any other factors that the court considers relevant to the equitable distribution of your marital assets

FAQs

The division of marital property is such a significant component of divorce that you are bound to have questions, and the answers to the most frequently asked questions might help.

When Was the Property Acquired?

If the property in question was acquired while you were married, it’s marital property, but acquired in this context isn’t always clear-cut. For those properties that are purchased over time, for example, there is an ongoing process of acquisition that tends to complicate the division of marital property. If, for example, your spouse brings a house that he or she purchased prior to marriage into your marriage, the house remains separate property to that point. This can change, however, if you move into the house as a family and begin using marital funds to pay the mortgage.  

What if My Spouse Wasted Marital Assets?

If your marriage is breaking down and you witness your spouse wasting or spending down your marital assets for something that isn’t related to your marriage, it’s only natural to have questions about the practice. In fact, the law calls this wasting of marital assets dissipation, and the court will address it by reconciling the errant spending in your divorce’s property award. 

A common example is a spouse who uses marital assets to lavish gifts and vacations on a new paramour. If the act of dissipation rises to the level of fraud, the court can include the dissipated property in the division of marital property – as if it were still available and, thus, requiring the at-fault party to make up for the loss. The court’s goal here is to discourage this kind of financial shenanigans.  

What Is a Monetary Award?

A monetary award refers to when one divorcing spouse is required to make a monetary payment to the other spouse to help balance the distribution of marital property. A prime example is the family home. In many divorces, the family’s home is the couple’s most valuable marital asset (and sometimes, it’s their only significant asset). If one spouse becomes the primary custodial parent (with whom the children live the majority of the time), the court is more likely to award him or her the family home in the divorce – and he or she will need to pay the other spouse for his or her equitable share of the home via a monetary award. 

Does Title Ownership Change Anything?

The fact that your spouse’s name – for example – is the only name on the title of a specific property has no bearing on whether the asset is marital or separate property. The deciding factor in making this distinction is when the purchase was made, and if it was purchased during the course of your marriage, it is very likely marital property. While the court can order the sale of this property in order to divide the proceeds in divorce, it cannot transfer title ownership of the property (except in situations involving pensions, retirement accounts, deferred compensation, and the like).  

An Experienced Annapolis Divorce Lawyer Can Help

The division of your marital property is a complicated component of a complicated legal process. This is why Patrick Crawford at the Law Office of Patrick Crawford in Annapolis, Maryland, dedicates his impressive practice to helping clients like you obtain fair divorce terms, including the division of their marital property. We’re here to help, so please don’t hesitate to contact or call us at (410) 216-7905 for more information today.

 


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