Voice actor Rick Logan famously sang, “Who gets the family Bible when two grown-ups lose heart?” If those grown-ups file for divorce in Minnesota, the answer will depend on how the court decides to divide the marital property between them.
In a divorce case, Minnesota Statutes Section 518.58 directs state courts to make a just and equitable division of the parties’ marital assets. The phrase “just and equitable division” seems straightforward and incapable of being misunderstood. However, as any seasoned Minnesota divorce attorney can attest, interpreting and applying this phrase in a divorce case can easily lead to contentious courtroom drama.
The Meaning of “Just and Equitable” Is Elusive
In divorce proceedings, most state laws have similar language that tells courts to divide the property divorcing spouses acquired during their marriage in a fair way to both parties. This directive differs from the handful of community property states, where the property is divided 50/50 between divorcing spouses.
In trying to understand better what lawmakers meant when they told Minnesota courts to divide marital property justly and equitably, a few observations must be made:
Division Applies Only to Marital Assets
First, the direction to divide property in a just and equitable fashion applies only to the parties’ marital assets. Marital assets include personal property, real estate, and other items you and your ex acquired while you were married, regardless of who purchased them.
Marital assets do not usually include things you or your ex purchased before the marriage. Nor does it include property like inheritances you received from your parents or others.
For example, suppose that you purchased your vehicle a year before you married your now-ex, and you used that vehicle throughout your marriage. During your divorce case, the court would generally not consider your car when deciding how to divide your marital assets.
Just and Equitable Division Does Not Mean Equal
One common misconception about property division in a Minnesota divorce is that courts must give each party an equal amount of assets. In reality, the court can take the circumstances of each divorcing couple into account when dividing property, including:
- Which party primarily contributed to the acquisition of property
- The services and support a non-working partner provided during the marriage
- Whether one party will be severely financially disadvantaged if certain assets are given to the other party
- A party’s behavior in either preserving the value of assets or causing an asset to depreciate during the marriage
- Emotional connections that one party may have to specific property
Minnesota courts will try to ensure each party leaves the marriage with assets of roughly equal value. However, justly and equitably dividing the assets does not require the court to ensure that value is exactly equal for each party.
Valuation of the Marital Estate is Crucial to a Just and Equitable Division
When it comes to the division of marital property, divorce lawyers spend most of their time valuing the assets that make up the marital estate. If a vehicle, home, or investment account is not assigned an accurate value, then it becomes impossible for the court to divide those assets fairly.
A knowledgeable and experienced divorce lawyer assisting you is even more critical if you or your ex acquired assets that are difficult to value. These assets could include a small business, artwork, or real estate property with substantial mineral rights.
The Parties Can Decide for Themselves What Equitable Division Looks Like
A court is not required to accept the property division the parties propose. Even when presented with such a proposal, the court is to make sure the proposal is, in fact, a just and equitable division of marital assets.
Nonetheless, if you and your ex agree on how your property should be divided, any Minnesota court will give serious consideration and deference to your proposal. This deference extends to values you and your ex agree to assign to particular property items. So long as the general agreement appears fair and reasonable, courts will generally adopt it.
Protect Your Rights with Help from an Experienced Minnesota Divorce Lawyer
The equitable distribution of assets in a divorce is about fairness. The court must divide marital property fairly between the parties. Although this often is a near-equal distribution, it does not have to be so.
You deserve to be treated fairly throughout the divorce, including when the court divides the marital estate. Having a seasoned divorce attorney from Johnson/Turner Legal can help safeguard your property interests. Contact us today to book a guidance call with our team and discover how we can successfully guide you through your divorce case.