When your marriage ends, the property and assets that you acquired as a married couple must be divided. Whenever possible, it is best to divide your assets without assistance from the court. The knowledgeable lawyers at Nichols Zauzig have extensive experience helping clients negotiate reasonable divorce settlements with former spouses in order to avoid the stress and expense of litigation.
Does equitable distribution mean equal?
Dividing assets with a former spouse in an amicable manner is not always possible. In Virginia, when the court steps in to separate marital assets, the process is called “equitable distribution.” Equitable distribution does not mean equal distribution. Instead, it means that the court will make an effort to divide property fairly based on the length of the marriage, the owner of the property, the reasons for the divorce, and other relevant issues.
How is property divided in Virginia?
When property is divided in the Commonwealth of Virginia, the court follows the following process:
The court classifies property as marital property, separate property, or both.
The court determines the value of all the property.
The court decides how all of the property should be divided considering the rights and interests of each party and the length of the marriage. If one party hid assets or took steps to reduce the value of the marital property to be divided, that party can be penalized for these actions.
Because dividing all property into equal halves is rarely practical, in many cases the court will require one spouse to pay a monetary award to the other spouse as partial compensation for the value of marital property. If the court is asked to make a decision on the monetary award based on the value of shared property, the divorcing parties must provide evidence for any claims they make regarding the value of shared assets.
In certain cases, estimating the value of shared property can be difficult. For example, if a couple has been operating a family business together, one spouse may need to buy the other out of the business. In such cases, a business valuation expert may be necessary to help determine the fair market value of the property, including good will (brand recognition and reputation).
What types of property are classified as marital?
To better understand your rights when the court uses equitable distribution to divide your assets, it is helpful to understand what types of property are classified as marital property and what types of property are classified as separate property.
Marital property includes:
Property acquired by either spouse during marriage that was not expressly kept separate.
Property in which one spouse has a separate claim, but the other spouse acquired an ownership stake during the marriage. For example, if one party owned a house before marriage but both parties paid and improved upon the house, this property may be considered both marital and separate property.
Property to which both spouses hold legal title (however, title is not the sole deciding factor if one spouse can prove that the property is actually separate property).
What types of property are classified as separate?
Separate property includes:
Property acquired by either party prior to the marriage and maintained separately.
Property acquired by either party during the marriage from an inheritance or gift (not from the other party) and maintained separately.
Property acquired in exchange for the proceeds from separate property or in exchange for separate property. For example, if one spouse purchases an item with his inheritance money or with the proceeds from selling his bachelor pad, this item can constitute separate property.
Each party is generally entitled to keep his or her own separate property following divorce, while the marital property is split in a fair and equitable manner by the court.
Getting Legal Help
At Nichols Zauzig, we can help you to determine what property the court may consider marital property and what property is separate property. Our experienced team can help you to make a compelling argument to the court for your rights to certain assets and assist you in obtaining the best divorce settlement possible under Virginia’s equitable distribution laws.
To obtain legal assistance in dividing marital assets, contact the experienced Virginia divorce attorneys at Nichols Zauzig to schedule a consultation. We are located in Old Town Manassas and Woodbridge, and can meet with you in Stafford as well. Call us today. We’re here for you.