Equitable Distribution of Assets
Property Division in Monmouth County
The division of property and assets is one of the most complex issues in any
divorce. New Jersey divorce law calls for
equitable distribution. It’s an important legal term with significant consequences.
Equitable distribution means
property and assets do
not need to be split 50/50
between the spouses. They need only be split equitably, with a judge being
the final arbiter of that equity. Hiring a Monmouth County asset division
attorney who knows the ins and outs of what adds up to an equitable split
could be the difference in whether your contributions to the marriage
gets fair treatment. Your property division attorney is there to ensure
that everything--from time spent raising children to assets that were
brought into the marriage to income earned during the marriage—gets
fair treatment in the settlement.
(732) 585-1651 to learn how we can help you!
Defining Marital Assets Under New Jersey Law
Before assets can be distributed, they must be identified. The first step
in that process is determining whether the assets are marital property
or separate property.
Marital property is that which is jointly owned by the couple and subject
to equitable distribution. Common examples would be a joint savings account that was opened just
after the marriage or the house the couple bought together after they
were married a couple years.
Separate property is owned exclusively by one of the spouses. Let’s
say one of the parties had a significant stock portfolio that was built
up prior to the marriage. No further investments were made after the wedding
and the portfolio was kept as a separate nest egg to finance a future
entrepreneurial venture. Presuming all of this, the portfolio is still
the distinct property of the person who brought it into the marriage.
What an asset division lawyer must help you do is navigate through the
considerable gray area that can exist between these two examples. What
- Your spouse owned a business prior to the marriage. That would seem to
make it separate property. But, what if, during the time you were married,
an expansion was undertaken that significantly raised the value of the
business? If the investment into the business was done with common funds,
then you have a claim to at least some of that value in an equitable settlement.
- Your spouse started a business two years ago and will continue running
it after the divorce. You don’t begrudge their continued ownership.
But in the plans that were presented to investors at the outset, your
spouse identified Year 3 as the one where a corner would be turned into
profitability. Your common funds went into starting the business. If Year
3 does start to see boom times, equity calls for you to share in any future
You inherited a tidy sum of money from a favorite relative. Is this separate
property or marital property? Even if the inheritance came after the marriage, it
might be your exclusive property. How that money was handled will be determinative.
Did you keep it separate from the rest of the family assets? Then a court
can easily define it as separate property. But if you commingled it with
common funds, then it may be defined as marital property and subject to
These examples just scratch the surface of the subtle distinctions between
marital property and separate property. They are distinctions that can
be worth a lot of money.
In some cases, it’s well worth your while to have a forensic accountant
come in. Forensic accounting in a divorce can help define the monetary
value of a new business, of a complex stock portfolio or even uncover
hidden funds if you suspect your spouse is trying to pull one over on
you. Your property division lawyer can fight for your interests as the
marital assets are defined and help determine if and when forensic accounting
Distributing Marital Assets
Every couple can avoid having their assets settled in a trial. New Jersey
law requires that
mediation at least be given a chance. In this process, a third party will work to
facilitate discussion between the parties and help them find their own
resolution. However, a mediator may not impose a solution. If negotiations
break down, then a trial is the result, and a judge will decide how assets
are to be distributed.
Judges have a great deal of leeway in determining what is equitable. It’s
common for a judge to consider the length of the marriage. Some of the
examples cited above dealt with potential businesses that a couple may
have started together. Whether that was done over a five-year marriage,
or a 20-year union will certainly weigh into what the judge ultimately
The income and assets that each spouse brought into the marriage will be
a factor. That has the potential to favor the spouse who brought the most.
But another element of an equity split is considering the standard of
living that each person enjoyed in the marriage and wanting to keep that
as stable as possible. The ability to maintain a standard of living can
be further influenced by any age gap that may exist between the spouses,
as well as their comparative health. How a judge reconciles these potentially
conflicting factors is up to them–and at least influenced by how
well your lawyer presents your side of the case.
If one of the spouses put a career on hold to spend more time with children,
that will be a significant factor in what is considered equitable. Judges
will look at the entire family as a single enterprise and the value of
taking care of the kids is going to be given every consideration. This
includes assessing whether the stay-at-home spouse now needs to return
to the workforce and requires additional training and education to get
back up to speed in their field.
Any assets you are awarded are not considered “new” for tax
purposes. However, if you are awarded the summer home in upstate New York
and then sell it later, you will be taxed at the time of the sale. A farsighted
lawyer will help anticipate these possible future costs in making your
case for what constitutes an equitable settlement.
Consideration of Fault
New Jersey divorce law provides grounds for an at-fault divorce. Adultery
is an unfortunate example of this. Domestic violence is a tragic example.
To get the divorce, one spouse proves that the behavior of the other is
the reason. It’s a natural follow-up question to wonder if the victimized
spouse will be favored in the distribution of assets.
In a judge’s ideal world, they would
not consider fault when it comes to asset distribution. But there are cases
where equitable distribution demands that the fault be at least looked
at. For example, if your spouse blew a substantial amount of money at
the casinos in Atlantic City, it would hardly be equitable for you to
essentially cover their losses in the settlement. If there is any factor
you believe a judge must know, it’s imperative that documentation
be provided. Your lawyer can work with you on gathering the evidence you need.
Don’t Do This Alone
New Jersey law allows you to file for divorce without a lawyer. But when
you consider everything that is at stake financially, a good Monmouth
County property division attorney is both a wise investment and a practical
When you come to Stolfe Zeigler New Jersey Family Law Group, you’re
coming to a law firm that was explicitly founded to help people in your
situation get excellent representation of their interests, whether that
be in negotiation, mediation, or litigation. We’ll fight for you
when it comes to defining and distributing your assets, along with everything
else that the emotionally difficult and legally challenging process of
divorce entails. Call us today at
(732) 585-1651 or
contact us online to set up an initial consultation.