Divorcing couples in Michigan face many issues in uncoupling their marriages, but dividing their property can be one of the most vexing challenges they will face. Understanding the process used by courts in the state can help both parties to a divorce to the issues concerning the division of their assets.
The 50 states use two basic methods of dividing marital property: the equitable distribution method and the community property method. In community property states, the court decides whether an asset is a community asset or a separate asset. Community assets are divided evenly between the divorcing spouses, and each keeps their separate assets. Michigan employs the equitable distribution method in which the court takes into account a number of factors prescribed by the legislature and attempts to divide the couple’s assets in a manner that is fair (or “equitable”) to both parties.
Factors that affect an equitable distribution
Courts consider a number of different factors in dividing a couple’s assets. Each judge is free to select the factors to apply, as long as the choice of factors is not arbitrary. The factors can include:
- The manner in which the asset was acquired, i.e., who paid for it.
- The length of the marriage
- The individual needs of each party and any minor children
- The earning power of each spouse
- Retirement and pension benefits owned by each spouse
- The cause of the divorce (domestic abuse can drastically reduce the share of the abusive spouse)
- Each spouse’s financial circumstances
- The contribution of each spouse to the family’s joint welfare
What about debt?
The couple’s debts will also be divided in a manner that the judge deems most equitable. If one spouse is responsible for incurring most of the couple’s debt, that spouse will generally be required to pay off that portion of the debt. If a debt was incurred to purchase a particular asset, say a vehicle, the person who is awarded the vehicle will be responsible for completing the schedule of payments.
Anyone concerned about property division, especially the family home, should seek the advice of an experienced divorce attorney.