DIVORCE AND THE DISTRIBUTION OF ASSETS

Throughout the divorce process, couples will have opportunities to work with their spouse to split property between themselves without court intervention. However, if a compromise cannot be reached, the court will step in to assist in the distribution of assets.

New Jersey is an equitable division state, meaning that the assets a couple acquired throughout their marriage will be equally divided once divorced. However, the term equitable does not necessarily mean equal. The distribution of assets will be determined by several factors, including the amount that each couple contributed to the marriage and what each party will need to move forward. Additionally, if parties fail to keep up with their financial responsibilities during the divorce proceedings, anything owed from one party to another may be deducted from the final settlement.

Property

Whether a couple agrees to divide assets on their own or needs a court do it for them, the first step is to distinguish between marital property and property purchased separately before marriage. Marital property must be divided between separating spouses, but any property acquired before marriage usually remains with the original owner.

However, the distribution of assets is not reserved to tangible items only. Some examples of typical marital property include:

  • Family home
  • Jewelry
  • Furnishings
  • Income
  • Dividends
  • Lottery winnings

It is important to note that debts are also considered property and will be split upon divorce. Additionally, any debts incurred by an individual before marriage will usually remain the responsibility of that individual.

Gifts

Presents given between spouses are considered marital property, and just like a home or car, gifts must be divided in some way. For example, if a husband gives his wife an expensive necklace for a birthday present, it is still considered marital property. In many cases, spouses simply agree to let each other keep the gifts acquired over the years. However, if a gift has increased in value or may have substantial sentimental value, a disagreement could develop.

For couples who have chosen to end their relationship, the engagement ring is often a point of contention. In New Jersey, the engagement ring is considered a gift after marriage, but unlike other gifts given in a marriage, the recipient gets to keep it. However, in cases where couples end their engagement before an official wedding, the person who purchased the ring has a legal right to request its return.

However, many separating couples do not realize that traditional diamond rings are worth much less than the original purchase price and are often designed specifically for the recipient. In other words, a ring may not be very useful or valuable after the couple splits.

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