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Division of Property in New Jersey Divorces: What’s Fair?

Navigating the emotionally charged landscape of divorce is challenging. When dividing assets, the state you live in plays a huge role in dictating the procedure. In New Jersey, the division of property is based on the principle of equitable distribution. But what does that mean for the soon-to-be ex-spouses? Let’s delve into the intricacies of the New Jersey approach to marital property division, with insights from the experts at Joseph J. Russell New Jersey Divorce & Family Law Attorney.

Marital vs. Separate Property

Before we can understand the process of dividing assets, it's important to differentiate between marital and separate property.

Marital Property: This includes most assets and debts that a couple accumulates during their marriage. Things like homes, vehicles, joint bank accounts, retirement accounts, and even shared debts, typically fall under this category.

Separate Property: On the other hand, separate property refers to assets and debts that one spouse owned before the marriage. Inheritances, gifts, and personal injury awards received during the marriage that were expressly meant for one spouse are also considered separate property.

It's crucial to understand that in New Jersey, only marital property is subject to equitable distribution. Separate property remains with its original owner. However, the line between marital and separate property can blur, especially if separate property increases in value during the marriage or gets mixed with marital property.

Principles of Equitable Distribution

Equitable distribution is the legal principle New Jersey courts use to divide marital assets and debts when a couple divorces. This system seeks to fairly distribute the couple's assets, but it's important to note that "equitable" doesn't always mean "equal." Here are the guiding principles of equitable distribution in New Jersey:

  • Identification of Property: Before anything else, all assets and debts accumulated during the marriage must be identified. This can include real estate, vehicles, bank accounts, retirement accounts, businesses, and even liabilities.
  • Classification of Property: Once all assets and debts are identified, they must be classified as either marital or separate property.
    • Marital Property: Typically, these are assets and debts accumulated during the marriage, regardless of whose name they're in.
    • Separate Property: Assets or debts that one spouse acquired before the marriage or received as a gift or inheritance during the marriage, intended just for that spouse.
  • Valuation of Assets: For the equitable distribution to occur, all marital assets must have a monetary value assigned. This might involve professional appraisals for real estate, expert valuations for businesses, or financial assessments of various investments and accounts.
  • Consideration of Relevant Factors: New Jersey courts don't have a fixed formula for dividing assets. Instead, they consider several factors to determine what's equitable. Some of these factors include:
    • Length of the marriage
    • Age and health of both spouses
    • The standard of living established during the marriage
    • The income and earning capacity of both spouses
    • Contributions by both parties to the education or earning power of the other
    • The present value of the property
    • The need of a parent who has physical custody of a child to own or occupy the marital residence
    • Debts and liabilities of both parties
    • The contribution of each spouse to the acquisition, dissipation, preservation, or appreciation in the amount or value of the marital property, including the contribution of a spouse as a homemaker.
  • Distribution of Property: After evaluating all factors, the court will decide on a distribution that it deems fair for both parties. Remember, this might not be an exact 50/50 split but rather a distribution that the court believes achieves fairness and justice given the unique circumstances of the marriage and the needs of both parties.
  • Marital Misconduct is Generally Excluded: New Jersey's equitable distribution principles generally don't take marital misconduct (like infidelity) into account unless it has directly impacted the couple's financial situation. The focus remains on ensuring a fair distribution.

It's worth noting that marital misconduct (like adultery) generally doesn't influence property division. The focus remains on what's fair and just, given the circumstances of both parties.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

Divorce is already stressful, but some missteps can make the process even more grueling. Here are a few common pitfalls to watch out for:

  • Misunderstanding Equitable Distribution: One of the biggest misconceptions is that "equitable" means "equal." In New Jersey, marital property is divided fairly, but not necessarily equally. Ensure you understand this distinction.
  • Overlooking Tax Implications: Some assets, when sold or transferred, can have tax implications. Forgetting to account for these can lead to unexpected financial burdens. Consult with a tax professional to understand potential consequences.
  • Hiding Assets: Intentionally concealing assets to prevent them from being divided is not only unethical but can also lead to severe legal consequences. Full transparency is vital.
  • Allowing Emotions to Overshadow Judgment: It's natural to feel attached to certain assets or want to "win" in the division, but making decisions based on emotions rather than rational judgment can lead to long-term regrets.
  • Failing to Properly Value Assets: Some assets, like businesses or real estate, may need professional valuation to determine their worth. Not getting an accurate valuation can lead to uneven distribution.
  • Ignoring Debt: Equitable distribution isn't just about assets; it also includes debts. Overlooking marital debt or failing to account for who is responsible for what can lead to financial issues down the road.
  • Forgetting about Future Value: Some assets, like retirement accounts or investments, may have a future value that exceeds their current worth. Consider the long-term implications of each asset.
  • Overlooking Intangible Assets: Things like intellectual property, business goodwill, or potential future earnings from ventures started during the marriage can often be overlooked but might be subject to distribution.
  • Assuming Property in One's Name is Separate: Just because an asset is in one spouse's name doesn't necessarily mean it's separate property. If it was acquired or increased in value during the marriage, it might be considered marital property.
  • Not Consulting an Expert: The division of property in a divorce is complex. Working without an experienced attorney can lead to oversights and missed opportunities to protect one's interests.

By being aware of these common mistakes and enlisting the help of professionals, one can navigate the process of property division in New Jersey divorces more smoothly and ensure a fair outcome for all parties involved.

Contact an Experienced Divorce Lawyer at Joseph J. Russell New Jersey Divorce & Family Law Attorney for a Free Consultation About Your Case Today

Divorce is never easy, and the division of property in New Jersey, with its emphasis on equitable distribution, can seem daunting. However, with an understanding of the principles and the right legal guidance, you can navigate this challenging process with confidence.

If you’re going through a divorce or considering one, don't navigate these turbulent waters alone. The team at Joseph J. Russell New Jersey Divorce & Family Law Attorney is here to guide you every step of the way. Ensure your rights are protected and that the division of assets and debts is fair and just. Contact us today for a consultation.

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