On the surface, property division in divorce may not seem that difficult. However, complications inevitably surface, especially in contentious divorce situations.
During your marriage, you and your spouse built an estate that probably included a comfortable home and its furnishings, two motor vehicles and a solid investment portfolio of stocks and retirement accounts. Now, all these assets receive scrutiny in divorce.
Community vs. Separate property
In community property states such as Arizona, couples jointly own marital property, assets and income and are jointly responsible for debt even if accumulated by only one of them. Generally speaking, in community property states, it does not matter who paid for the property and sometimes it doesn’t matter whose name is on the deed or title. Community property belongs to both spouses.
Property acquired by a person before the marriage is considered sole and separate property and belongs to that individual. Assets acquired during the marriage, except for those assets acquired by gift or inheritance, are presumed to be community/marital property and belong to jointly both spouses.
For example, if tangible assets such as cars, furniture, clothes, appliances, jewelry, stock and retirement accounts are acquired during the marriage, the presumption is that those assets, together with any debts associated with those assets, must be equitably divided. In most situations, “equitably” means “equally,” but this is not always the case.
Further complications may surface for couples who have valuable property. As a result, this property may need separate treatment in terms of valuation and division.
Understand what belongs to you
You may want to consult with an attorney to make sure you understand how to distinguish between your community property and either spouse’s separate property. An attorney can also assist you in understanding potential scenarios for equitable division of community property, which may include selling or otherwise liquidating the property. Look out for yourself and seek legal advice to protect your interests.