What is "Fair and Equitable" in Personal Property Division?

Minnesota, like a majority of states, divides property in divorce according to a system of "equitable distribution." This means that marital property isn't necessarily split exactly equally between a divorcing husband and wife, but divided in a way that would be equitable, or fair. (A minority of states, including California, are "community property states" in which all property acquired during the marriage is divided fifty-fifty.)

In practice, "equitable" does turn out to mean nearly equal in many cases. But while "equal" is a mathematical concept, "equitable" is a bit more nebulous, something of a judgment call. So exactly how do Minnesota courts determine what is fair and equitable when it comes time to divide a couple's property?

How Minnesota Courts Equitably Divide Property

You and your spouse may have very different notions of what would be "fair and equitable" in your marital property division! When we are talking about a property division here, we don't necessarily mean who gets the pots and pans . We are talking about the division of the financial assets and liabilities of the parties. As noted above, an equitable division of marital property is often, though not always, close to equal. After all, what is the easiest way to divide a dollar? Depending on the circumstances, it may be very unequal. Here are some of the things that Minnesota courts consider when dividing property in a divorce:

  • the length of the marriage
  • any prior marriage of a party
  • the age, health, station, occupation, amount and sources of income, vocational skills and employability of each party
  • the estate, liabilities, needs, opportunity for future acquisition of capital assets, and income of each party
  • the contribution of a spouse to the acquisition, preservation, depreciation or appreciation in the amount or value of the marital property, as well as the contribution of a spouse as a homemaker.

Minnesota courts make a presumption that both spouses contributed in a substantial way to the acquisition of property and income during the marriage. So even if one spouse is a highly-paid corporate executive who works 70 hour weeks, and the other is a stay-at-home parent, the fact that only one party brought home a paycheck will not have a negative impact on the other party when it comes to property division.

How Your Attorney Impacts Your Minnesota Property Division

The attorney you choose for your divorce can have a significant impact on your ultimate division of property. An experienced and knowledgeable attorney can help you reach settlement with your spouse, so that the question of property division never even comes before a judge. Settlement can be a good thing for a number of reasons. First and foremost, spending time fighting over property drives up your legal fees and those of your spouse—leaving fewer assets to divide between you.

Reaching settlement also means that you and your spouse have more input into what property each of you receive, and how property division is structured. Should it be necessary to go to trial on the issue of property division, an experienced Minnesota family law attorney will understand how to persuasively present the facts to the court so that it will arrive at a property division that meets your needs.

If you and your spouse have accumulated a significant marital estate, you will want to be sure to have an attorney experienced in representing clients in high net worth divorces. Similarly, if your marital estate includes a business, you need to have an attorney familiar with the intricacies of property division and divorce for business owners.

To learn more about Minnesota property division in divorce, and how the law applies to your particular situation, contact Mundahl Law to schedule a consultation. We look forward to answering your questions.

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