The division of assets and debts between a couple is oftentimes one of the more contentious aspects which must be decided in a divorce. Who gets to keep the car? Who gets to keep the house? Will a stay-at-home spouse receive a share of the working spouse’s retirement account? Who has to pay back the family’s credit card debt?
It can be understandably challenging to untangle your life and your property from the spouse with whom you have spent years intertwining your lives. For the parties involved, deciding what is “fair” can be a matter of perspective, which is why the courts have developed more systematic ways of dividing property between spouses in a divorce.
When the division of property is left to the courts in Oklahoma, decisions will be based on the doctrine of “equitable distribution.”
What this means is that the court will attempt to divide the debts and assets in the fairest and most reasonable manner possible. It is a common misconception that courts always attempt to split property 50/50 between spouses, and you should understand that “equitable” does not necessarily mean “equal.” After all, a 50/50 split is simply not always fair.
The courts will instead look at every marriage on a case-by-case basis and consider a wide variety of factors in determining the most just way to divide the couple’s property. Judges may consider the length of the marriage, how each couple contributed to the marriage, current income, future prospects for employment and income, other conditions each spouse will face after the divorce, child custody and the cost of raising a child, and much more. They will adhere to these same equitable distribution principles whether they are dividing debts or assets.
However, the courts will only seek to fairly divide marital property. Generally speaking, Oklahoma recognizes two type of property: marital and separate. Separate property is any property you owned or acquired prior to your marriage, while marital property is any property you acquired during your marriage. Each spouse will normally be allowed to keep their separate property after the divorce, with a few exceptions.
Keep in mind, though, that an increase in value in your separate property that resulted during your marriage due to the efforts of you and your spouse will be considered marital property for the purposes of equitable distribution. Your spouse may also be granted your separate property in some cases if they are granted custody and the property is needed for raising the children.
The division of property in Oklahoma is almost always quite complex, and despite the justice system’s attempts at equitability, it can be incredibly unfair if you do not have a skilled divorce attorney representing your interests. If you are facing a divorce, please contact Hensley Legal Services and let us fight to ensure you receive your fair share of your marital assets.