March 6, 2011

Divorce Property Division 101

As Portland, Oregon based divorce and family law lawyers, we get a lot of questions from Oregonians about what happens to property at the time of divorce.  There is a lot of misinformation about what the court does and can do. This is not a technical article, there are a lot of nuances to property division, but this post is to address some basic misunderstandings.

There are two types of property, and courts treat them differently at the time of divorce.  The first type and largest class of property is “marital property”, which is everything the parties own, regardless of how it is titled, when it was acquired, or how the asset was handled during the marriage.

The second type is a a small class of property within the category of marital property called “marital assets.”  Martial assets are property that was acquired during the marriage.

These property definitions matter because courts apply a presumption of equal contribution to “marital assets” but not to marital property acquired before the marriage date.  People and lawyers still argue about the presumption of equal contribution and the division of marital assets, but the difference in how property is categorized can make the difference between retaining the property as a separate asset, or having the property divided by the court.

Note that divorce courts are courts of equity, and have the responsibility to work a property division that is fair, or “just and proper in all the circumstances.”  Because of this obligation to be fair, the court can and does sometimes award a premarital asset of one party to make sure a property division is fair.

If you have questions about how your property may be divided by the court in a divorce case, you should consult with an experienced family law lawyer. The lawyers of Stephens Margolin PC have extensive experience representing Oregon clients in the division of property during divorce.