Equitable Distribution of Marital Property
Lawyers Skilled in Property Division Matters
In Colorado, marital property must be divided equitably. This means that the division is supposed to be fair, but it may not be 50/50. In some cases, it is possible for a couple to agree on their own about how to divide property accumulated during the marriage, but in many cases, it is necessary to negotiate with the help of a property division attorney or take the issue to trial before a judge. If you are concerned about what the principle of equitable distribution means for you during a divorce, you should consult a skillful lawyer. At Plog & Stein, P.C. our Denver equitable distribution lawyers can evaluate your situation and represent you during negotiations and at trial as necessary.
The Principle of Equitable Distribution
Property belonging to spouses may be either marital or separate. Marital property includes most of the property accumulated during the marriage, such as earnings and retirement benefits. Separate property is any asset that a spouse brought into the marriage. It may also include gifts made only to one spouse.
In many cases, we can negotiate a marital settlement agreement with regard to property division. The spouses may decide between themselves which property is marital and which is separate, as well as the value of the marital property for the purposes of dividing it fairly. Many people find this preferable to having a court characterize and divide the property. However, if you cannot reach a settlement with your spouse, it will become necessary to take the matter to court.
At trial, the court will characterize assets and debts as marital or separate. The marital property includes assets and debts that were acquired during the marriage. Separate property is what was owned before the marriage or acquired during it, such as an inheritance or gift. If separate property increases in value during the marriage — such as when the value of a retirement plan goes up— the increase is marital property, although the value of the original property at marriage remains separate. Titling that which was separate property jointly can change the nature of the property to marital. In these instances, as long as the spouse who originally owned the property can trace the separate, non-marital portion he or she might still be able to retain that aspect of the property. Our equitable distribution attorneys can guide Denver residents through this complicated process.
Next, a value in monetary terms will be assigned to each asset and each debt. When the assets or debts are complex, it may be necessary to retain a C.P.A. or appraiser to put a value on various pieces of property. For example, if there is a family business, it may be necessary to retain experts to value the business.
The property is then distributed “fairly” between the spouses. This does not necessarily mean that all of the property will be liquidated and the proceeds split 50/50. Instead, when determining how to divide the property in a fair way, the court will look at the nature of the specific property, each spouse’s economic circumstances, what each spouse contributed to acquiring the marital property, any increase or decrease in the value of the separate property in the course of the marriage, any depletion of the separate property for marital purposes (such as buying a family home), and other factors. In terms of contributions to the marital estate, both statute and courts acknowledge that one person taking on the role of being a homemaker is considered contributing.
In some cases, property is converted from separate property to marital property. This may happen when a title is put jointly in the names of both spouses. This may also happen when funds have been commingled. For example, if you bought a house while you were single, but then you allowed your spouse to pay for renovations and the mortgage, the house may become marital property, at least in part. Commingling might also occur when separate property is mixed with marital property, such as when one party liquidates a separate investment account and puts those proceeds into a joint account. Some of the complexities of property division may be alleviated via the parties entering into a premarital or post-marital agreement. Not all issues of marital property division are simple, and some require detailed analysis and skilled legal experience from a Denver family lawyer.
The court will also need to look at any debt that your spouse and you accumulated during the marriage and assign it to one or the other spouse. This may include credit card bills, loans, medical bills, tax debt, and more. Things such as mortgages or car loans will generally go with whichever spouse is keeping a specific item of property and will not be factored into the division of other, unsecured debt.
All the Credit Cards Are in My Wife’s Name. Can I Be Held Responsible?
Though the Colorado property statute, C.R.S. 14-10-113, does not specifically address the issue of debt, Colorado courts are vested with the power to allocate or divide marital debt. Marital debt is debt accrued during the course of the marriage. Presuming debt was incurred for marital purposes, such as food, clothing, shelter, family vacations, or other true family-related purposes, the court will likely consider the debt marital and divide it equally or in some other “equitable” fashion.
Courts are not concerned with whose name the debt is titled in, but rather whether it was incurred during the marriage and the purpose for which it was incurred. If the debt solely in your wife’s name was incurred for personal, non-family items, such as diamonds, furs, etc., the court would likely consider that debt to be her separate, or non-marital, debt. The Denver divorce attorneys at Plog & Stein, P.C. are ready to answer your questions related to marital debt.
Consult an Experienced Equitable Distribution Lawyer in Denver
If you are concerned about the equitable distribution of your marital property, you should retain an experienced family law attorney. At Plog & Stein, P.C. we are sympathetic to our clients’ needs and provide careful and tenacious advocacy to protect their interests. Our retainer rates are competitive. Contact Plog & Stein, P.C. in the Denver area at (303) 781-0322 or via our online form for an appointment with a divorce lawyer. Our Denver equitable distribution attorneys also represent people in Westminster, Broomfield, and Boulder, as well as other cities in Jefferson, Adams, and Boulder Counties.