Divorce is more than just ending a marriage. It is also the formal, legal process of assigning separate property ownership rights to divorcing spouses. When a couple divorces, they must divide the marital property they have acquired during their marriage. Every state has unique rules concerning the property division process and the definition of “marital property.” If you plan on divorcing in Columbia, MO, in the near future, you should understand how property division works in Missouri and what you can expect from contested divorce proceedings.

Q: Will My Ex Get Half of Everything in Our Divorce?

A: Generally, divorce entails dividing the marital property as equally as possible, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that married couples in Missouri will each receive 50% of their marital property in a divorce. While some states uphold community property laws and require a strict 50/50 division of marital property in divorce, Missouri is an equitable distribution state.

Equitable distribution strives for the fairest, but not necessarily precisely equal, division of marital assets in a divorce. Some couples may choose to privately negotiate property division through alternative dispute resolution, while others will leave the decision up to a judge. When a judge must rule on property division, they will assess numerous factors to determine the fairest possible division of marital property.

Q: What Property Can’t Be Divided in Divorce Proceedings?

A: Missouri divorce laws prevent the division of “separate” property or property that a person owned before getting married. As long as you can provide proof of ownership concerning an asset or piece of property that shows you owned it before you were married, the item will qualify as your separate property and will not be divided in divorce proceedings.

It’s important to note that some separate property may transmute into marital property under certain conditions. For example, if you owned an asset like a house or a business before marrying and your spouse invested in improving that asset while you were married, the asset may become marital property if their contributions increased its value by a significant amount.

Q: Can I Trade Property to Avoid Paying Alimony?

A: Missouri family court judges who must rule on divorce cases tend to prefer divorce orders that do not involve long-term financial arrangements such as alimony. The equitable distribution laws of Missouri lend themselves to negotiating, so if you are concerned about paying alimony to your ex, it is worth considering offering a larger share of the marital property to offset any potential alimony obligation you might have. Your Columbia, MO, divorce attorney can advise you about what would suit your interests best in this kind of situation.

Q: How Does Property Division Relate to Child Custody Determination?

A: When a Columbia, MO, family court judge rules on property division, one factor they must consider when awarding marital property to the divorcing spouses is the spouses’ respective custody rights if they have children. Generally, judges prefer to interfere with children’s lives as minimally as possible. This means that a custodial parent may be more likely to get the family home in the divorce to allow the kids to remain in a familiar environment.

Q: What Happens If I Have a Prenuptial Contract?  

A: Many marrying couples create prenuptial contracts to outline their financial responsibilities and their rights during their marriages. For example, a prenuptial contract can outline the spouses’ financial responsibilities to shield one another from each other’s debts. Prenuptial contracts commonly contain postnuptial clauses that provide a roadmap for divorce should the couple decide to end their marriage. If you are preparing to divorce and have a prenuptial contract, you should have your Columbia, MO, divorce lawyer review this contract carefully.

As long as your prenuptial contract is legally enforceable, this agreement can have a significant bearing on property division determination in divorce. If your prenup contains any illegal or unconscionable terms, or if it was not drafted on legally valid grounds, then you cannot count on your prenup to influence your property division proceedings in your favor.

Q: I Put My Spouse Through College. Will This Influence Property Division?

A: In equitable distribution states such as Missouri, judges must look at spouses’ contributions toward their marriages in divorce proceedings. If you paid your spouse’s way through college, the judge would certainly consider this when awarding marital property. Your contributions to your spouse’s education and career can also influence other aspects of your divorce.

Q: Can My Spouse and I Negotiate Property Division on Our Own?

A: Many divorcing couples would prefer to have more control over the outcomes of their divorce, particularly when it comes to property division. Divorce mediation has become one of the most popular options for handling the divorce process throughout the US. This method of alternative dispute resolution allows divorcing spouses to meet privately with their divorce attorneys and negotiate many aspects of their divorce, from property division to alimony.

Q: I Think My Spouse Is Hiding Assets. How Can I Prove It?

A: Attempting to hide assets from divorce proceedings can incur serious legal penalties. If you suspect your spouse has hidden assets and is attempting to shield them from property division, you need to consult a Columbia, MO, divorce lawyer about your concerns. They can potentially arrange for an expert witness to review you and your spouse’s respective financial disclosures and examine them for errors or omissions. A forensic accountant, for example, would be adept at locating hidden assets and uncovering the paper trails that typically follow this type of financial wrongdoing.

Q: How Can an Attorney Help Me With Property Division?

A: Hiring an experienced Columbia, MO, divorce attorney to represent you is one of the best things you can do to increase your chances of a fair and reasonable property division determination. Your attorney can help you conduct your financial disclosure, consult expert witnesses to review complex financial questions and guide you through the complex proceedings the property division process typically entails.

Hopefully, these answers will help you feel more at ease about what to expect in your property division determination. Regardless of whether you intend to pursue alternative dispute resolution or go to court to settle your divorce, reliable legal counsel is invaluable during this challenging process. Contact an experienced Columbia, MO, divorce attorney as soon as possible once you decide to end your marriage if you have any concerns about property division.