New Jersey Property Division Lawyer
Ending a marriage can cause stress, worry, and uncertainty. Dividing property can be a complicated and time-consuming task, and many couples project their emotional distress about the divorce onto their belongings, assets, and debts. Disputes about who keeps a particular piece of furniture or who is responsible for a credit card bill can derail divorce negotiations. Working with a seasoned matrimonial attorney can often smooth over many of these disagreements.
Leaving your marriage with the financial means to move forward into a fulfilling life may require compromises. Protect your financial future by contacting a New Jersey property division lawyer. An experienced divorce attorney can explain more about your legal options and obligations during a divorce.
What Is Considered Marital Property?
The court can only divide marital property during a divorce. Any property acquired during the marriage may be considered marital property, even if only one person used or cared for it. With a few exceptions, the major differentiating characteristic between separate property and marital property is timing. If a spouse owned an asset before the marriage or acquired it after someone has filed for divorce, it is separate, but any assets acquired during the marriage are marital property.
It does not matter whether only one spouse paid for the property or if it is titled solely in one spouse’s name. Even gifts one spouse gave to the other are considered marital property.
Real estate like the family home and investment properties are marital property. Vehicles, furniture, collections, tools, and other household items are marital property. Marital property may include retirement accounts, business interests, investment portfolios, and pensions, as well as negative obligations like mortgages, credit card debt, and auto loans. A New Jersey attorney can assist a spouse in cataloging their marital property to ensure it is divided fairly during a divorce.
Is a Spouse Entitled to a Share of the Other’s Separate Property?
Property that a person owned before marrying is not part of the marital estate, and the other spouse is not entitled to an interest in it, unless it was somehow converted into marital property under limited exceptions allowed under the law. Property that one spouse received as a gift from someone outside the marriage is separate property and will continue to belong to that person alone after a divorce. Inheritances are also separate property that one spouse can keep. There are very limited exceptions to the gift and inheritance exclusions.
In some cases, separate property may turn into marital property. When one spouse adds to or increases the value of separate property, it may lose its protected status. For example, if a person owned a house prior to marriage, it would be separate property. It should be noted that if that person’s spouse moves into the home, helps pay the mortgage, works to maintain the property, or raises the parties’ children in the property, a judge might decide that the house is now marital property, in whole or part. A knowledgeable family attorney can explain whether there are grounds for a judge to award separate property to the other spouse in a specific situation.
How Are Assets Divided in a Divorce?
New Jersey, like most other states, follows the equitable distribution model of property division. Instead of splitting the property evenly in half, the rule of equitable distribution allows the court to divide up property in the way that is most fair for each person, given their circumstances. The law does not favor one spouse over the other in property division matters; however, the Court often does end up ruling to divide property equally.
N.J.S.A. § 2A:34-23.1 describes 15 factors a court may consider when deciding how to divide property fairly, including:
- The length of the marriage
- The age and health of the spouses
- Each spouse’s debts and liabilities
- The tax consequences of the property distribution
- The couple’s standard of living during the marriage
- Each party’s capacity and opportunity to earn a living post-divorce
- Any prenuptial or postnuptial agreements the couple entered regarding their property
- The value of the separate property each spouse will have when the marriage ends
- Whether one spouse contributed to the educational or professional attainments of the other
- Whether one spouse deferred or abandoned their education or career to care for children or run the household
There is also a “catchall” factor where the court can consider anything relevant. Courts generally do not consider issues of fault when making property distribution decisions but may do so if one spouse wastes marital assets during the marriage, which usually only applies if it is toward the end of the marriage and the marriage is already falling apart.
The law declares a presumption that both spouses make significant contributions to the marriage, financially and in other ways. A New Jersey attorney could present evidence that the other spouse did not make monetary or other contributions to the marriage that may affect what is equitable for property division.
What if My Spouse Is Hiding Assets?
In many marriages, one spouse has more robust knowledge of the couple’s finances than the other. Sometimes, one spouse has concealed income, assets, or liabilities during the marriage. A spouse may attempt to manipulate the property division process by hiding assets or debts during divorce proceedings.
The law requires both spouses to make complete disclosures of their assets and liabilities during the divorce process. If one spouse fears the other might divert their marital assets while the divorce is pending, they can ask the court to issue an order that essentially freezes the marital property. An experienced divorce lawyer in New Jersey can offer guidance on whether this step is necessary in a specific property division case.
These financial disclosures are sworn statements submitted under penalty of perjury, and courts take intentional misrepresentations or omissions seriously. When the judge believes a spouse may have intentionally understated their income or assets to gain a financial advantage in a divorce, they could penalize them by awarding a larger share to the innocent spouse—perhaps even the entire value of the hidden assets. In rare cases involving tax evasion, a family court judge might forward the file to the appropriate taxation authority for investigation.
If a spouse may be hiding assets, an attorney could also issue subpoenas to various financial institutions to try and find them. There are also forensic accountants that can perform a forensic analysis to determine whether someone is hiding assets or income. An experienced property division lawyer has relationships and knows how to work with forensic experts.
How Are Assets Valued During a Divorce?
Before any property can be divided, the former couple’s assets will need to be identified and assigned a value. The marital estate may be quite large, and this process can be time-consuming.
If a former couple owns a business, real estate, or a significant amount of assets, it may be necessary to have an appraiser, accountant, or other financial professional review the assets and liabilities in the marital estate to determine a fair valuation. In many cases, each spouse will have experts conduct a valuation, and the couple will negotiate to arrive at a final figure. In some cases, one or both spouses may hire forensic accountants to verify their financial disclosures.
Once the marital property is itemized and valued, it can be divided. Often, parties will work out the details of the property division during mediation or in other negotiations between their New Jersey property division attorneys. If the parties cannot decide how to value or distribute an asset, a judge may be called upon to make the final decision.
Talk To an Attorney in New Jersey About Property Division
Itemizing, valuing, and dividing property during a divorce can be a time-consuming task. By retaining a New Jersey property division lawyer, you can assert your rights and interests during the divorce process. Protect yourself and your family by scheduling an appointment today.