Have you decided to get a divorce? Divorce can be a difficult time and one filled with many changes that will set the tone for your life far into the future. One of the bigger things happening during the divorce process that can have a significant impact on your post-divorce life is the division of marital assets. It can be a complicated process and one that can vary from state to state. Let’s take a closer look at how property is divided in an Arizona divorce.
How Is Property Divided in an Arizona Divorce?
While most states are equitable distribution states when it comes to division of the marital property in a divorce, Arizona falls into the minority of states that are considered to be “community property” states. Pursuant to the state’s community property laws, the assets and debts acquired by a couple during a marriage are considered to be owned equally by both and should be, thus, divided equally during divorce proceedings. Some community property states take a strict interpretation of this and attempt to divide all marital debts and property 50/50. While Arizona mainly sticks to the equal division dictated by community property law, it does not require the split to be precisely equal. Instead, the state courts aim for the division to be approximately equal, taking in other factors to see when a deviation from an otherwise 50/50 split would be warranted pursuant to principles of equity and fairness.
Without a settlement agreement reached by both parties to a divorce, the division of marital assets will be left to a judge. The first step in this process is determining what assets are marital and what assets are separate. Only marital property is subject to division during divorce. Separate property will remain with the owner. For the most part, separate property is that property that one spouse owned individually prior to the marriage. It can also include, however, property received as a gift or an inheritance by a spouse during the marriage. Furthermore, there may be a prenuptial agreement or a postnuptial agreement in place dictating what property is to be considered separate in the event of divorce.
There can also be other complications in determining whether an asset is marital or separate. For instance, sometimes commingling of assets occurs in a marriage. This is when separate property becomes community property and loses its separate property status. This can occur when assets, such as the marital home are retitled in both spouses’ names after marriage. In other cases, assets may be community in part and separate at part. For instance, if a retirement account was established and contributed to prior to marriage as well as during the marriage, then it would likely be considered partially community and partially separate.
In general, Arizona courts will follow a presumption that the assets and debts acquired during a marriage are community property. Once property has been classified as community, division of the community property will commence once the property has been valued. Valuation of the marital property can also be complex. Again, if the spouses cannot agree upon the value of an asset, it will be left for the judge to determine a value. Some assets will be easier to value than others. Often, experts in relevant fields may be retained for the valuation of more complex assets, such as a CPA to evaluate retirement assets or appraisers to value artwork and other unique valuables.
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