For New Jersey couples contemplating divorce, the subject of property division is one of the most problematic concerns. Having a basic grasp of how marital assets are divided in a New Jersey divorce can help both parties set reasonable expectations for how their assets will be divided.
The basic rules
New Jersey uses the concept of equitable division to divide property between divorcing spouses. In other words, the court does not rely on specific percentages but instead uses a series of various factors to make an equitable division of marital property. The court first prepares an inventory of marital property, essentially all property acquired by the couple during their marriage. Any property acquired before the marriage or from an inheritance, gift or judicial award is called “separate property”; separate property is generally not subject to division by the court. The court will also determine the value of the couple’s property. Either party may challenge the court’s determination of these issues.
The factors affecting division
The courts have worked out the factors affecting an equitable distribution over many decades. The most commonly used elements are:
- Duration of the marriage. In marriages of longer duration, the courts will be more inclined to divide the assets equally.
- The age and physical health of each party. If one party suffers from a chronic or disabling illness, the court may award that party a greater share of the marital assets.
- The parties’ respective incomes. The court may divide the assets to make up for the limited earning power of either spouse.
- Debts or liabilities. Generally, debts will be divided in the same percentages as assets unless one spouse has accumulated an unfair portion of those debts. These debts must be paid by the spouse to whom they are assigned.
- The couple’s standard of living. The court will attempt to divide assets in percentages to enable both parties to retain their previous standard of living.
- The economic circumstances and earning capacity of each party.
- Any written agreements the parties may have signed before the marriage.
- Any other factors the court deems to be relevant to an equitable distribution of assets. This factor can be a wild card in dividing the assets.
Anyone concerned about how the marital assets will be divided should consult an experienced divorce attorney for an evaluation of the assets and the potential division of those assets.