When preparing to go through divorce proceedings, you may understandably be concerned about how property will be divided. You will want to keep as many of your assets as possible, but your ex-spouse may demand more than you believe they are entitled to. If you and your spouse cannot agree on how your property should be split, the family court will decide for you. Below, we review how a judge will decide who gets what in a Missouri divorce.

Equitable Distribution

State law governs property division in a divorce, and Missouri is a “dual-property” state. This means each asset will be classified as “marital” or “non-marital.”

In a Missouri divorce, all marital property is subject to equitable distribution. The judge will attempt to divide marital assets as fairly as possible. This does not necessarily mean that property will be evenly split.

When making decisions about property division, a Missouri judge will consider:

  • Each spouse’s current financial situation. The court will assess each spouse’s income, holdings, debts, and ability to earn a living.
  • Each spouse’s applicable conduct during the marriage. A spouse might receive fewer marital assets if there is evidence that they previously wasted marital property.
  • The extent to which each spouse contributed to the accumulation of marital assets. If one spouse primarily used their own resources and wages to acquire marital assets, the judge will typically award them a larger share of the value of that marital property.
  • The extent of each spouse’s non-marital assets. A court may be less inclined to award a large share of marital assets if one spouse’s non-marital property makes them independently wealthy.
  • Child custody arrangements. One spouse may receive a greater share of the marital assets if they need additional resources to care for minor children.

The Difference Between Marital and Non-Marital Property

Only marital property will be divided in a Missouri divorce. Non-marital property (also called separate property) is not subject to equitable distribution.

Any asset acquired during a marriage is automatically considered marital property. It does not necessarily matter who paid for the asset or whose name is on the ownership documents. Your wages, real estate, vehicle, furniture, and all other types of real and personal property are assumed to be marital if they are obtained after you and your spouse married.

Assets required before marriage are considered non-marital property and will not be divided in a Missouri divorce. For example, family heirlooms that you owned before getting married will be classified as non-marital assets. Property obtained through inheritances or gifts is also considered non-marital even if it was acquired during the marriage. Couples can also use prenuptial agreements before they marry to proactively designate specific assets as non-marital in the event of a divorce.

Non-marital property can become marital property if the separate property commingles with marital assets. This tends to occur when a spouse contributes marital resources to the non-marital property. For example, say you use your own money to put a down payment on a new car before you get married. The car will initially be considered your non-marital property, even if your spouse occasionally uses it after you get married. However, if your spouse contributes to car loan payments with their marital income, the car will likely become a marital asset. In these types of situations, a judge will commensurately weigh each spouse’s contributions when deciding how to fairly divide the value of the property.

Protecting Your Non-Marital Property in a Missouri Divorce

Contentious disputes involving property division are common in Missouri divorces. Your ex-spouse may falsely claim that your non-marital property is in fact marital and is thus up for grabs. You will need to “prove” your asset is non-marital by establishing when it was purchased or acquired, who paid for it, and how (if applicable).

Our attorneys at Smith Law Offices, LLC can help you ensure you keep your non-marital assets and get a fair share of marital property. We have over 20 years of combined legal experience and are extensively familiar with how Missouri judges handle matters of property division.

Get the aggressive advocate you need when navigating a contested divorce. Call (636) 400-1177 or contact us online to schedule an initial consultation today!

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