In New Jersey, marital property is divided up via a process called “equitable distribution.”The result is supposed to be a division that is “fair.”However, “fair” does not necessarily mean that the division will be 50/50.
The first step in the equitable distribution process is to determine which property is “marital” and which is “separate”
Generally, any property that’s acquired by either party separately, or both parties together, during the marriage is marital property and thus subject to equitable distribution.This marital property includes things like pensions and retirement accounts based on work during the marriage.
Property that either party acquired before the marriage and kept in his or her name is generally considered separate property.Separate property also includes property that one party received as a gift or inheritance from a third person.
The next step in the equitable distribution process is to determine what the marital property is worth.For example, the family home, car, and other major possessions can be assessed by an independent appraiser.Pensions and other financial assets that won’t be available until sometime in the future can be assessed based on their “present value”.
The final step in the equitable distribution process is the division of the marital property.
New Jersey law provides a list of criteria for a court to consider in dividing marital property.The list of specific criteria is not exhaustive, and the court can consider “any other factors which the court may deem relevant.”
However, the court may generally not consider which party is more at “fault” for the divorce when dividing up marital property.Thus, a court may usually not consider whether a party was guilty of adultery, cruelty, abandonment, etc.
The New Jersey criteria for property division are:
- The length of the marriage;
- The age of the parties and their physical and emotional health;
- The income or property that each party brought to the marriage;
- The couple’s standard of living during the marriage;
- Any written agreement between the parties before the marriage (a premarital agreement ) or during the marriage concerning property distribution;
- The economic circumstances of each party at the time of the property division;
- The income and earning capacity of each party, including things like education, training, skills, work experience, prolonged absence from the workforce, custodial responsibility for children, etc.;
- The time and expense required for a non-self-supporting party to gain education or training and become self-supporting at a standard of living reasonably comparable to what the couple had during the marriage;
- Each party’s contribution to the education, training, or earning power of the other;
- Each party’s contribution to the acquisition or dissipation of the amount or value of the marital property;
- A party’s contributions as a homemaker;
- The tax consequences of a proposed property distribution;
- The value of the marital property;
- The need of a parent with physical custody of the couple’s children to own or live in the family home or use the family furniture, car, and other property;
- The couple’s debts and liabilities;
- The need for a trust fund to cover the medical or educational needs of a spouse or child;and
- The extent to which a party deferred achieving his or her own career goals as a result of the marriage and child-rearing.
The same property division issues that apply to divorce also apply to New Jersey civil unions.
If you have questions about property division during divorce, we invite you to contact our Hackensack office for a free initial consultation with one of our experienced New Jersey family lawyers.
Call us today at 201-345-5907 or send us an e-mail and let us help you with your New Jersey divorce issue.