Division Of Marital Property And Debts
In matters of divorce law, Michigan is an equitable distribution state. This means the laws are designed to make sure that each spouse gets property of equal value in the divorce settlement. Because things like a jointly owned house cannot be split in two, dividing property can be a very difficult process when spouses can’t come to an agreement. Having an experienced divorce attorney on your side can help you get the specific things you want in your half of the property division.
What Is Marital Property?
Most things you acquire during your marriage are considered marital property. Things that you owned before the marriage are considered separate property and are not included in the division of property. Gifts and inheritances given to only one spouse during the marriage are also considered separate property.
There are situations where separate property can become marital property. The most common ways this happens are when you or your spouse do work to increase the value of an asset or when money is placed into a joint bank account. For example, a rental property owned prior to the marriage that gains value due to improvements made during the marriage becomes marital property, as do funds from an inheritance that are deposited into a joint account.
Dividing Marital Debt
Like property, debts acquired before the marriage are considered separate debt and not divided as part of the divorce. In general, any debt acquired by either spouse during the marriage is considered marital debt no matter who made the purchase. There are a few notable exceptions to this rule:
- Money spent on an extramarital affair
- Money owed as restitution for a crime
- Student loan debt used to pay living expenses
It’s important to note that the court’s mandated division of marital debt does not have influence over creditors. In other words, if debt is listed in both your name and your spouse’s name, you can still be held accountable even if the court assigns your spouse to pay the debt.
What Happens When You Can’t Agree?
The ideal situation is that you and your spouse come to an agreement on how to divide your marital property before the divorce hearing. Failing that, you can work with a neutral mediator to help you come to an agreement. If mediation fails or is not possible due to issues of domestic violence, the next option is usually to put the decision in the hands of the judge.
The judge considers the financial situation of each spouse and things such as infidelity, addiction or other circumstances that may have led to the divorce. You can appeal decisions made by the judge, but it’s always better to have a say in the division of property before the decision is handed down rather than after.