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Marital Property in New Jersey

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When a couple decides to end their marriage, it becomes necessary to divide the marital assets. This includes accounts, property, and investments. New Jersey follows the principle of equitable distribution for dividing property, meaning that the asset division may not necessarily be a flat 50/50 split. Instead, each spouse will retain their own premarital and personal assets, while also receiving an equitable share of the marital property. Having a clear understanding of New Jersey’s marital property laws and what is “maritial property” is often not understood by clients starting planning for thier divorce, so is a foundational place to start for them understand a realistic outcome for their situation and plan for life after the divorce. 

Legal Definition of Marital Property in New Jersey

In legal terms, marital property in New Jersey refers to any assets that a couple acquires during their marriage. This includes, but is not limited to, the family home, other real estate properties, vehicles, savings accounts, retirement funds, investments, and even debts or liabilities incurred during the marriage—It’s important to note that the title or name on a deed or account does not necessarily determine whether an asset is marital property. If acquired or contributed to during the marriage, it is typically considered part of the marital estate.

In contrast, separate property refers to any assets that either spouse owned prior to the marriage, as well as gifts or inheritances received by one spouse alone during the marriage. These assets typically remain the property of the individual, barring any complications such as the commingling of marital and separate property.

For instance, if a spouse owned a car before the marriage, it would be considered separate property. However, if that car is sold during the marriage and the proceeds are used to purchase a new car, the new vehicle could be considered marital property. Similarly, a savings account that one spouse contributes to during the marriage, even if originally opened before the marriage, could also be deemed marital property. Consulting with a legal professional can provide a better understanding of how these definitions apply to individual situations.

Laws Governing Marital Property in New Jersey

In New Jersey, marital property division follows the principle of equitable distribution in a divorce. This means it’s not always a 50-50 split, but instead, the court considers various factors to ensure a fair distribution. These factors include the length of the marriage, the age and health of the spouses, the income and property brought into the marriage, the standard of living during the marriage, and any written agreements between the spouses.

Key Laws

The key law governing marital property distribution in New Jersey is N.J.S.A 2A:34-23.1. It outlines the factors that courts consider when dividing marital property. The court looks not only at the monetary value of assets but also the non-monetary contributions of each spouse, such as childcare and homemaking.

In New Jersey, any asset or debt acquired during the marriage is considered marital property, regardless of whose name it’s in. Conversely, separate property, like assets owned before the marriage or received as gifts or inheritances, is typically not subject to division unless it’s commingled with marital property. Understanding the difference between marital and separate property is crucial.

Prenuptial agreements

Prenuptial agreements play a significant role in defining marital property. These agreements, made before marriage, outline each spouse’s property rights in the event of a divorce. They can specify the division of property and determine what is considered separate or marital property.

Valuing marital assets

Valuing marital assets involves assessing their fair market value as close as possible to the court hearing. Some assets, like bank accounts and publicly-traded stocks, have easily determined values. However, real estate, businesses, art, or antiques may require a professional appraiser.

Dividing Property

Dividing marital property equitably, not necessarily equally, is a central aspect of New Jersey divorce proceedings. The court considers factors such as the length of the marriage, the age and health of each spouse, the income and property brought to the marriage, the established standard of living, and each party’s economic circumstances. Disputes over asset values and hidden assets are common challenges during the process, which may involve independent appraisers or forensic accountants.

Case Studies and Examples

In the context of divorce proceedings, understanding how marital property is divided is crucial. This article explores real-life examples and case studies that shed light on the division of marital property in New Jersey. Additionally, an analysis of notable divorce cases and their outcomes will be presented, providing valuable insights into this important aspect of family law.

Example: Misunderstanding of Retirement Accounts

In the case of Johnson vs. Johnson, the husband, a long-time employee of a large corporation, had accumulated a substantial sum in his 401(k) retirement account during the marriage. The wife, a stay-at-home mother, believed that since the account was in her husband’s name, she had no claim to it. However, under New Jersey law, any wealth accumulated during the marriage, including retirement accounts, is considered marital property. After seeking legal advice, the wife was able to claim a share of the 401(k) account in their divorce settlement.

Example: Misconception Regarding Home Ownership

In another case, Smith vs. Smith, the marital home was under the husband’s name, leading the wife to believe she had no ownership rights. However, since the mortgage and maintenance costs were paid from joint marital funds during their marriage, the house was deemed marital property. Despite her name not being on the deed, the wife was awarded a portion of the home’s value in the final divorce settlement. This case underscores that the name on the property deed does not always determine ownership in a divorce.

Protecting Marital Property Rights

Protecting one’s interests in marital property throughout a divorce process is crucial. Here are some practical steps to consider:

  • Legal Representation: Having a lawyer who specializes in divorce and family law is invaluable in protecting your interests. They can provide expert advice, help negotiate settlements, and ensure you are treated fairly throughout the process.
  • Financial Advice: Consulting with a financial advisor can be extremely beneficial. They can help understand the long-term effects of the divorce settlement and assist in making decisions that secure your financial future.
  • Keeping Records: Maintaining thorough documentation of all marital assets is essential. This includes bank statements, real estate documents, and records of big-ticket items like cars or other valuables.
  • Understanding Shared Debt: It’s critical to know how shared debt like credit card balances, mortgages, or loans can impact your financial standing post-divorce. You’ll need to agree on how to divide these debts or possibly even pay them off before finalizing the divorce.
  • Negotiation and Settlement: Pursue an amicable negotiation process wherever possible. Mediation or collaborative law can be useful tools to come to a fair settlement without a court battle.

Every marital situation is unique—one-size-fits-all advice may not always be applicable. It’s best to seek personalized advice based on your specific circumstances.

Litigated Assets and Mingled Assets: Key Examples

During divorce proceedings, the division of ‘mingled assets’ or ‘commingled assets’ frequently becomes a contentious issue. These are assets that were initially owned by one party before the marriage but have become intertwined with the marital assets. Here are some common examples:

  • Real Estate: A house bought by one partner before marriage can become a commingled asset if the other partner contributes to mortgage payments or home improvements. The increase in home equity during the marriage can be viewed as a marital asset.
  • Retirement Funds: If one spouse had a retirement account before the marriage, it could become a mingled asset if the account increased in value during the marriage. The increased value might be split upon divorce.
  • Business Interests: If one spouse owned a business before the marriage, but the other spouse contributed to its growth, the increased value of the business could be considered a commingled asset.
  • Investments: If pre-marital funds were used to make investments during the marriage, the returns or appreciation of these investments could be classified as mingled assets.

It’s vital to note that laws regarding commingled assets vary significantly by jurisdiction. Therefore, it’s crucial to consult with a legal expert familiar with the laws of your state or country.

Tips to Avoid Litigation of Marital Assets

When navigating the complex terrain of divorce and asset division, it’s beneficial to heed the advice of your legal team; below are a few strategies your attorney may suggest to  avoid litigation over marital assets.

  • Be Realistic: It’s important to keep expectations grounded in reality. Aiming for a fair and realistic division of assets can prevent protracted legal disputes. Rather than striving to ‘win,’ focus on reaching an equitable outcome.
  • Get Agreements in Writing: To avoid ambiguity and potential disputes, ensure that all agreements concerning asset division, including prenuptial and postnuptial roles, are put in writing. A legally binding written agreement clarifies the responsibilities and rights of each party.
  • Fully Disclose Assets & Depts: To achieve a fair and transparent division of assets, all properties, investments, incomes, and financial obligations should be fully disclosed. Concealing or misrepresenting the value of assets and debts can lead to unfavorable rulings and possible legal consequences.
  • Maintain Accurate Record Keeping: Diligent record-keeping can be a valuable tool in the division of assets. Keep clear and accurate records of all your financial transactions and holdings. These documents can serve as evidence if there’s a dispute about the value or ownership of an asset.
  • Engage a Financial Advisor: A professional financial advisor can provide valuable insights into the financial implications of asset division. They can help you understand the tax consequences of various division scenarios and guide you toward decisions that protect your long-term financial stability.

Resources on New Jersey Property Division

Our website is dedicated to providing resources on NJ property laws. These resources were create to answer common questions about property division in divorce cases, including laws, evaluating asset values, considering tax implications, and providing financial planning advice. Whether you need guidance on prenuptial and post-nuptial agreements or assistance in disputing a divorce settlement, we can help you safeguard your interests in complex property division cases.

We also answer common questions about marital property in NJ, such as if New Jersey is a community property or 50/50 divorce state, or follows equitable distribution. Additionally, gaining insight into how attorneys handle various situations that arise during divorce proceedings is crucial. They can assist clients in negotiating settlements, uncovering hidden assets, and navigating complex scenarios, such as property division even when one’s name is not on the mortgage.

Laws in New Jersey are subject to change. Therefore, for the most current and applicable information relating to your situation, it is advisable to consult with a lawyer. The guidance provided here is general in nature and may not accurately reflect the nuances of your personal circumstances or recent changes in the law.

Remember, these tips are general guidance and may not fit every situation. Always consult with your attorney to understand the best course of action for your individual circumstances.

Reach Out to Us

If you have questions about marital property in New Jersey or need help with property division, we’re here to assist. Our firm regularly works with clients facing similar challenges, and we’d be happy to set up an appointment to discuss your case. We can explore whether our firm would be a good fit to represent you.

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