When a Virginia couple decides to end their marriage, one of the first questions that must be faced is the division of the couple’s assets. This question can be especially vexing when at least one of the partners was previously married or if the couple owns a significant number of assets. Virginia requires that marital property be divided fairly and equitably, and the first step to making that decision is to classify the couple’s assets as marital, separate or part marital and part separate.
Marital property is all property acquired by the couple except separate property from the date of the marriage to the date of separation. The most common example of marital property is the family residence. Examples of separate property include personally owned automobile acquired as a gift from a parent or third party, an inheritance given to one of the spouses or a gift to one spouse from a third party. The third category – property that bears characteristics of both marital and separate property – can create many legal issues. Examples include income received from separate property during the marriage, appreciation in the value of separate property during the marriage.
Once property is classified, the court must determine the value of the assets. Usually, the valuation date is the date of trial, but different assets may be subject to different valuation dates. Many techniques are used to establish the value of different assets. For example, a real estate appraiser may be used to value the family home and other real estate. A financial analyst may be used to value assets such as securities and retirement plans.
Once property has been classified and valued, the court must set a fair and equitable division of the assets and debts. This rule does not mean that each spouse is entitled to 50 percent of each asset. Instead, the overall division must be judged to be fair and equitable. Some of the factors used by Virginia judges include contributions made by each spouse to maintaining the family’s financial well-being, the duration of the marriage, the ages and physical conditions of each spouse, the circumstances which contributed to the divorce, the liquid or non-liquid character of the assets, tax consequences of transferring ownership of some assets and how and when specific assets were acquired.
As may be easily imagined, the more assets that a couple owns, the more complicated becomes the task of dividing them. Anyone with questions about the division of marital assets may wish to consult an experienced divorce attorney for a review of the couple’s financial situation and an evaluation of various methods of dividing those assets.