Along with child custody matters, one variable that tends to weigh heavily on people's minds during divorce is how their debts and property will be divided. The laws dictating property division during divorce vary significantly from state to state. Georgia, like many other states, follows a system known as "equitable distribution."
Separate vs. marital property
In Georgia and other equitable distribution states, the process of dividing assets during divorce begins with a careful inventory of all property and other assets owned by either spouse. These assets are categorized as either separate property or marital property.
Generally speaking, separate property in Georgia includes any assets owned by independently by either spouse prior to marriage. Under certain circumstances, other assets can also be considered separately owned, even if they were obtained during the marriage. For instance, inherited property that was specifically willed to one spouse alone may be considered separate property even if it was received while the couple was married.
Certain exceptions aside, however, most assets that were earned or acquired by either spouse during the marriage are considered marital property, even if only one spouse's name is on the title. Because property is divided differently during divorce depending on how it is classified, accurately distinguishing between separate and marital property is a very important part of obtaining a fair property settlement in a Georgia divorce.
Dividing marital property
During divorce in Georgia, separate property is typically retained its original owner. Marital property, on the other hand, is subject to division according to the principle of equitable distribution. This means that the property is divided between the spouses according to what is "equitable," or fair. While in some cases this results in marital property being divided equally, in many cases it does not.
Instead of dividing marital property equally between divorcing spouses, judges in Georgia family court will examine a variety of factors in order to reach a conclusion about how to divide the property fairly, including each spouse's financial and nonfinancial contributions to the marriage.
Beware of asset concealment during divorce
Unfortunately, it is relatively common for spouses to try to unfairly influence the outcome of the property division process by hiding assets. One of the most important ways that divorcing spouses in Georgia can protect themselves from asset concealment during divorce is to pay close attention to their finances and be on the lookout for potential warning signs of asset concealment, such as:
- A spouse acting secretive or defensive about financial matters and refusing to share passwords or other account information.
- A spouse taking on unusual amounts of debt or opening multiple bank accounts.
- A spouse complaining about unusual financial difficulties.
- A spouse whose expenditures seem out of proportion with his or her claimed income.
Contact a lawyer for help
To ensure that property is divided fairly during divorce, it is essential that all separate and marital property be properly accounted for and categorized. Divorcing spouses in Georgia are encouraged to contact a knowledgeable divorce lawyer who can help them protect their interests and negotiate on their behalf for an optimal property settlement.