Dividing Your Property During Divorce
How to divide property fairly during a divorce.
For most couples, splitting up your possessions is a big part of the process of getting divorced. Either you and your spouse sit down and decide together who gets what property — or a judge will have to divide what is called your “marital” or your “community” property. If possible, of course, it’s best to do the dividing yourselves. The most important thing to do is to be open and honest in setting out everything of value you have come to own during your marriage. That includes revealing that you still have a little bank account you secreted away five years ago when the two of you were thinking about splitting up. Items such as these tend to surface sooner or later, and the penalties for hiding something of value can be serious.
Dividing Up Property Yourselves
If you and your spouse are going to try to divide your property yourselves, here are some steps to get you started.
List your belongings.
Work together to make a list of all of the items that you own jointly. Of course, you can omit items both of you agree are personal things of insignificant value. And, for example, when dealing with furniture that is not of great value, you can just specify “furniture in master bedroom,” “dining room furniture,” and so on.
Value the property.
Try to agree on the value of anything worth more than a specific agreed amount — say $100 or $500. If there is a house, a business, or anything that is difficult to value, get an opinion about that from some agreed outside authority. For example, for your house, pick a realtor who is familiar with your neighborhood. Or, for antiques, you can hire a professional appraiser. You may need an actuary to value a pension and an accountant to help you value an investment. If there is a mortgage or other debt associated with any item, be sure to subtract the amount of the debt from its value so that you list its net value.
Decide on the logical owner.
Now go through your main list, item by item, and decide whether there is some good reason to have each piece of property go to one or the other of you. Start with the biggest value items and see how far you can get. If having an equal split is important to you, keep track of the total value each person accumulates. Later, trade off on the smaller items, with each of you taking one in turn.
Get the judge’s approval.
If you and your spouse can agree on dividing the property you own together, the court will normally approve whatever agreement you have reached. The only exception is when a party who doesn’t have a lawyer seems to have agreed to take a lot less than half of the property. In that case, the judge may want to ask a few questions to be sure that one of you isn’t taking advantage of the other. But don’t count on this intervention in every case.
Republished and edited with permission – Nolo.com