Dividing assets is an important part of any divorce in Virginia, but for couples with significant assets, the division of their assets can be especially critical. Understanding how courts approach the division of assets in a Virginia divorce can help a person complete the preparation that is necessary to avoid an inequitable outcome if the case cannot be settled.
The cardinal rule: assets must be divided fairly and equitably
Over forty states, including Virginia, have enacted statutes requiring marital assets to be divided fairly and equitably. The first step in this process is to classify a couple’s assets as either marital property or separate assets. Marital assets are defined as all jointly owned assets, such as the family home, and all other assets acquired during the marriage. Separate property includes all property owned by either spouse before the marriage or property acquired by inheritance or gift during the marriage. Gifts from one spouse to the other are considered marital property.
In making a fair and equitable division of assets, the courts usually give highest priority to the financial situation of each spouse both during and after the marriage. Generally, the spouse who is likely to have the higher income after the divorce will be required to pay such items as child and spousal support.
Valuing marital assets can be difficult. For example, if the couple has lived in the same house for ten years or more, the fair market value of the house as of the date of divorce must be established. This can be done by retaining a professional appraiser. Likewise, valuing the marital share of certain retirement assets can involve complex mathematical formulae and often requires the services of a financial planner or accountant.
The courts will consider a number of factors in dividing marital assets. The entire list is too long to be included in this post, but some of the more commonly used factors include the length of the marriage, the age and health of each spouse and the contribution of each spouse to the family’s well-being. The court can also consider such other factors as the Court deems necessary or appropriate to consider.
Dividing marital assets is obviously a complex process that often requires the assistance of one or more experts. Anyone who is consider a divorce would benefit greatly from the advice of an experienced family lawyer on how the person’s financial situation is likely to affect the division of marital assets.