The divorce process informally begins once you and your spouse decide to divorce. The formal, legal divorce process begins when one spouse files a divorce petition with the St. Charles, MO, family court. Your divorce case is likely to entail many complicated issues, and property division is commonly cited as one of the most contentious aspects of the divorce process. If you are heading for divorce in St. Charles and have concerns about your property rights, review the following frequently asked questions and their answers to learn more about the subject. It is also wise to consult an experienced St. Charles, MO, divorce attorney about the specific questions you may have about property division in your case.

Q: Is Missouri a Community Property State?

A: Some states uphold strict community property laws for divorce that dictate an equal 50/50 division of all marital assets. Missouri is not a community property state, and the family court system of Missouri upholds an equitable distribution law. This means that when a married couple divorces, the judge overseeing their divorce case will strive for the most equitable distribution of the couple’s marital assets, but the division may not be precisely 50/50 as it would be in a community property state.

Q: What Happens in Property Division If I Make More Money Than My Spouse?

A: When a St. Charles, MO, family court judge rules on equitable distribution in a divorce case, they must evaluate many different factors, including the incomes of the spouses. If you make more money than your spouse, the judge may decide that they deserve a larger share of marital property to reflect the difference between your incomes.

Q: How Does Property Division Influence Alimony and Child Support?

A: Missouri family courts and the family courts of other states that uphold equitable distribution laws tend to try and avoid long-term agreements for things like alimony whenever possible, but alimony can come into play in your divorce case if the difference between your income and your spouse’s income is significant. As far as child support is concerned, some marital property is more likely to go to a custodial parent than a noncustodial parent. For example, if one parent will become their child’s custodial parent, they will be more likely to receive the marital home since the child will be staying with them, and the court will want to interfere in the child’s life as minimally as possible.

Q: How Can I Get More Marital Property Out of My Divorce Agreement?

A: If you are concerned about the amount of marital property you will receive from your divorce settlement, it is vital to understand how property division works and what the judge overseeing your case will consider when awarding marital property. For example, if you own less separate property than your spouse, or if you earn significantly less income than your spouse, it is likely the judge will award you more marital property to account for these differences. If you mediate your divorce privately, you and your spouse can potentially negotiate a marital property division that suits your individual needs more closely than what a judge would decide.

Q: What Is “Separate Property” in Divorce?

A: “Separate” property is the property of one spouse that does not qualify as marital property. Typically, separate property includes everything a spouse owned before marrying, along with gifts they have received over the years, inheritance from other family members, and anything given to them by the other spouse with donatory intent. You can expect to keep all of your separate property in divorce as long as you can prove ownership of the property.

However, some separate property may transmute to marital property if your spouse did anything to improve its value during your marriage. For example, if you owned a home worth $100,000 before marrying and your spouse contributed to renovations and remodeling to increase the property value to $200,000, the court would likely deem this a significant enough appreciation in value for the home to qualify as marital property. It is also possible for separate property to transmute to marital property if you added your spouse as a joint property owner during your marriage.

Q: What If My Spouse Hides Assets in Divorce?

A: If you suspect that your spouse has intentionally hidden assets or otherwise failed to provide a complete and accurate financial disclosure, it is vital to consult your attorney about the issue as soon as it arises. A good attorney can sometimes coordinate expert witness reviews of your financial disclosures to uncover hidden assets. For example, a forensic accountant can identify hidden assets and determine whether your spouse has been truthful in their financial disclosure. If a spouse has intentionally hidden assets or attempted to do so, the judge overseeing the divorce case will likely award the other spouse a larger share of marital property to reflect this misbehavior.

Q: Do I Need to Hire an Attorney for Property Division Disputes?

A: While it is technically possible to negotiate property division on your own, it is always best to have an attorney represent you in divorce proceedings. Divorce is often an emotional experience, and intense emotions may cloud judgment regarding practical matters like property division. Hiring an attorney is the best way to maintain objectivity during your property division proceedings, and you can approach the situation with greater confidence knowing you have legal counsel on your side looking out for your best interests.

Take time to research local St. Charles, MO, divorce attorneys and meet with each of your candidates to determine which of them is most likely to provide the level of legal counsel you expect. Ultimately, your divorce attorney can help with much more than property division. They can also help you take advantage of alternative dispute resolution to make your divorce easier, help you navigate child support and child custody determinations, and provide valuable legal counsel throughout all phases of your divorce proceedings. If you expect to divorce soon and are unsure about how property division will unfold, consult an experienced St. Charles, MO, divorce lawyer as soon as possible.