Getting a divorce usually comes with a lot of emotional turmoil and difficult feelings that need to be resolved in time. But the practical aspects of divorce can also be complex and difficult to sort out. The most complicated aspect of divorce for many couples is division of property.
It involves taking inventory of commingled assets, property and debts and apportioning them to each spouse appropriately. Below is a basic overview of how property division works in a Georgia divorce.
Fair but not always equal
A minority of states follow the “community property” model that says nearly everything acquired during the marriage is jointly owned and subject to a 50-50 split in divorce. But most states, including Georgia, follow a model known as “equitable distribution.” Under this principle, all marital assets and debts need to be divided equitably, which isn’t always the same thing as perfectly in half. Marital assets/debts are those that were acquired during the marriage or appreciated in value during the marriage. Separate assets/debts are those acquired prior to marriage or given exclusively to one spouse during the marriage (such as a family inheritance).
A judge/court ultimately decides what is fair if the couple is unable to reach an agreement on their own. To make these decisions, judges may consider principles that include addressing financial inequality or compensating one spouse for the poor behavior of the other.
Seeking mutual financial stability
In many marriages, spouses contribute equally to the family, but those contributions aren’t always financial. If one spouse left the workforce to be a stay-at-home parent, for instance, they may be granted some additional assets in the divorce (or through spousal support) to compensate for the fact that they will now have a difficult time finding good-paying work because their career trajectory was interrupted. In cases where both spouses work but one earns significantly more than the other, a judge may weight asset division in favor of the lower-earning spouse.
The goal is to ensure that when the divorce has been finalized, both spouses are financially stable and that each can remain stable going forward.
Considering fault and destructive actions
It used to be the case basically nationwide that couples couldn’t be granted a divorce without cause. Acceptable grounds for divorce included things like adultery, abandonment, abuse, etc. Now, every state allows couples to file for no-fault divorce, and some states don’t even consider fault when it comes to aspects of property division.
In Georgia, fault can influence a judge’s ruling in some cases. For instance, if a woman can prove that her husband cheated on her and it led to the breakdown of the marriage, a judge may decide to award her a larger share of assets. This tends to be rarer these days than in the past, however.
What judges are more likely to punish, however, is behavior that negatively impacted divorce proceedings. This could include one spouse trying to hide assets or one spouse going on a spending spree to waste the marital assets that could have been divided. Needless to say, these types of actions rarely go unaddressed when they are brought to light.
There is no substitute for case-specific advice
Every divorce is different, including the specific types of assets that are important to one spouse or the other. Property division is a complex process that requires assets and debts to be properly cataloged, appraised/valued and divided fairly. It is also important to consider how certain assets will change in value over time or the tax ramifications of one asset vs. another. In short, property division is best handled with the help of an experienced family law attorney who can give you case-specific advice and guidance.