Aside from determining the custody of children, the central issue in a divorce case is the distribution of the assets and debts of the marriage. The courts do this by taking an accounting of all assets and debts and dividing them between the parties in a manner that appears “just and reasonable” or “equitable.” More often than not, this equitable distribution results in an approximately equal division of assets and debts. However, the court is not bound to divide the martial estate to the parties in equal proportion and may award one party a much larger share of the assets or debts, if warranted.
An Oklahoma divorce court’s division of assets and debts must be based on the evidence presented by the parties at trial. It is imperative for a divorce litigant to present the best possible evidence of the values of those assets and debts. The testimony of the parties simply isn’t enough. Oklahoma divorce courts need to see the appropriate documentation to make the best possible decision.
The attorneys of Law Firm of Oklahoma know exactly how to gather and present the evidence divorce courts need. Our attorneys take the time to visit with all of our clients regarding their property holdings, and we specially tailor discovery plans to ensure that the court properly evaluates and divides their assets. Because the parties to a divorce action may own property that is difficult to value, it is often necessary to rely on the help of outside professionals to value an asset. In cases involving real estate, oil and natural gas interests, and small businesses, for example, the assistance of an independent financial professional may be needed to place a value on certain assets. Our attorneys have built a network of professionals to assist our clients in the evaluation of marital property. This network allows us to present the best evidence available to the court dividing those assets.
Just because two people are married does not mean that all of their property is marital property. The Oklahoma Supreme Court has stated that marital property or debt is any property that has accumulated as a result of the joint-industry of a husband and wife. Ultimately, any asset or debt that has been acquired after two people marry is considered part of the marital estate.
There are some exceptions to this rule, though. Some examples of property acquired during marriage that are not part of the marital estate include inheritances of one spouse only, gifts given to one spouse (including wedding rings), and severance benefits. In a divorce case, these items are presumed not to have been acquired through the joint industry of the parties and are awarded to their owners as “separate property.” Separate property also includes any property that was owned by one party prior to the marriage or acquired after separation. Even though these types of property are considered separate, the court can divide them as marital property in the event they are “commingled” with the marital estate. Commingling of property occurs when one party utilizes separate property, such as a bank account or piece of real property, for the extensive use of the family.
It is not always obvious to determine whether an item of property is part of the marital estate. Likewise, property that seems like marital property may actually be separate property that should be awarded to only one party. The lawyers at Law Firm of Oklahoma
have dealt with many complex property division issues. We have the resources to ensure that our divorce clients receive everything to which they are entitled from their marital estates and to protect their separate property.
Many divorce clients believe that ownership of property is determined by whose name is on the title. In some respects they are correct, but for the purposes of dividing assets and debts of a marriage, the question is not whose name is on the title, but when and how the asset was acquired. If an asset is purchased during the course of a person’s marriage with money earned during the marriage, that asset is part of the marital estate and is subject to division by the court. It is entirely possible that a divorce court awards property titled in one party’s name to the other party. In dividing marital assets, the court is not concerned about whose name is on a title document. Its focus is ensuring that marital property is appropriately divided between the parties.
Assets and debts acquired by a couple during the course of their marriage are presumed by the court to further the goal of the family. However, sometimes one party uses the family’s assets or takes on additional debt for a purpose that does not advance the goals of their marriage. When one spouse uses the family resources in this way, those assets are deemed “dissipated assets.” Common scenarios involving dissipated assets involve spouses who have squandered marital funds gambling or who have spent marital funds in furtherance of an extra-marital affair.
If a party is able to prove that his or her spouse spent marital funds or took on additional debts for a purpose that did not advance the goals of their marriage, he or she is entitled to a reimbursement of those funds. For example, if a party proves that his spouse dissipated $10,000.00 of marital funds, that party would be entitled to offsetting property division award in the amount of $5,000.00.
Evidentiary issues involved in proving that one party dissipated marital funds can be tricky. If you are involved in a divorce case and believe that your spouse has squandered marital assets, contact the experienced divorce attorneys at Law Firm of Oklahoma
to schedule a free consultation.
Property Division Alimony is a cash payment made to a party in order to offset an award of real or personal property to the opposing party. For example, if the Petitioner in a divorce case is awarded possession of the marital home, which has equity of $50,000.00, the Respondent could be awarded Property Division Alimony in the amount of $25,000.00 as his or her share of the equity in the home. The court has wide latitude in making awards of property division alimony and can require the awards be paid in a lump sum or in installment payments over time.
The division of marital assets in an Oklahoma divorce case is designed to divide the total assets and debts of a married couple regardless of their income level. The Oklahoma Supreme Court has recognized that the contributions made to a marriage consist of more than just dollars and cents. It has stated in clear language that “the general rule is that the trial court should not consider how much either party contributed to the purchase of jointly-acquired property, because a gift from one to the other is presumed.” Oklahoma divorce courts are required to evaluate only the values of the assets they are dividing and cannot punish one spouse for making less money during the marriage by awarding them a smaller portion of the marital estate.
Additionally, Oklahoma divorce courts cannot examine the parties’ personal conduct during the marriage in dividing assets and debts. Some divorce litigants would like to see parties who have engaged in marital infidelity or domestic violence punished by the divorce court by awarding them a smaller share of the marital estate. However, the court is prohibited from doing so.
The equitable division of assets and debts in a divorce is a complex matter. In order to protect your separate property and to properly value marital assets, it is critical to have the legal representation of a skillful divorce attorney with a network of resources working for you. Schedule a free consultation today by calling Law Firm of Oklahoma at (405) 608-4990.