Meg Alexander, Esq.
A giant myth about property division in a divorce is that all the property you and your spouse have acquired will be split fifty-fifty. This is not the case in Maryland.
Maryland is an “equitable distribution” state, which means a judge will divide any marital property in a way they consider fair. There are certain statutory factors a judge looks at to determine what is fair in each case, but first, the judge needs to determine what is actually considered marital property. Marital property is everything, with limited exceptions, that you and your spouse acquired from the date of your wedding to the date the judge grants your divorce. Even if you are separated, marital property continues to accumulate.
When it finally comes time for you and your spouse to divide property, it can be overwhelming, so here are some things you should know:
1. Nonmarital Property falls into limited categories.
Anything you acquired before the marriage, a gift given solely to you, or your inheritance is not considered marital property. Anything directly traceable to these sources is also not considered marital property. For example, suppose you inherit money from your parent’s estate and use it to buy a car. In that case, the car is likely considered nonmarital property. Just be warned that nonmarital property can become marital property if it is “comingled” with marital property. For example, you inherited money from your parent’s estate. You put it in your joint bank account where you and your spouse deposit your paychecks. Then you use that account to buy a car. The car is likely considered marital property. The best thing for you to do if you receive a cash gift or inheritance is to put it in an account in your name only and not add any other funds to that account. You and your spouse can also always agree that something is nonmarital property. For example, your spouse knows you inherited money from your parent’s estate and agrees that the amount you inherited is your property. The best way to make this sort of agreement enforceable is to have it in writing and signed by both you and your spouse.
2. Title is just a piece of paper.
A common topic that surprises many people is that something can be considered marital property even if your name is the only name on the title. You buy a car while you’re married and only put your name on the title. When it comes time to divide property, that car will be considered marital property even if your spouse has never even driven it. The same goes for real estate. If you buy a house while you’re married and only your name is on the title for whatever reason, the house is still considered marital property that will need to be divided between you and your spouse.
3. Pensions = Property.
The value added to your pension, 401(k), IRA, etc., starts becoming marital property on the day you get married. Retirement is often the highest-valued property that a married couple has and dividing the assets can be extremely complicated.
4. Yes, your Star Wars collection can count as marital property.
People often don’t think of the things they buy for their hobbies as marital property. For example, you love Star Wars and your spouse has never seen it. You’ve been collecting figures since you were a kid and have continued to collect figures throughout your marriage, regularly spending $100 to $300 on boxed figurines. One time you even went all out and spent $3,000 on a 1979 Boba Fett figure. You’ve spent nearly $30,000 on Star Wars figures throughout your marriage. Unless that $30,000 was spent from a gift or inheritance that you kept separate and apart from any marital money, your spouse is entitled to a monetary portion of that $30,000. Any sort of collection you have that you add to while married – sneakers, handbags, jewelry, art, etc. – the value added while married is marital property that will need to be divided between you and your spouse.
Determining what is marital property and then dividing that property can be complicated and stressful. The experienced family law attorneys of Andalman & Flynn will be able to help you determine what is marital property and what is nonmarital property. We may also be able to help you reach an agreement with your spouse that would prevent the need for a judge to determine what is marital property and how to divide that property.
About Andalman & Flynn, P.C.: Founded in 1998 in downtown Silver Spring, Maryland, Andalman & Flynn has forged a distinguished reputation for legal excellence. The Firm practices family law, estate planning, and probate throughout Maryland and the District of Columbia, and represents individuals seeking disability benefits throughout the country. The Firm focuses on cases that impact the rights of everyone and is there for clients when responsive legal help is most critical. The Firm has provided legal analysis on national and local television and radio, and its attorneys often testify before legislative bodies and are routinely invited to contribute to prominent legal publications. For more information about Andalman & Flynn, please visit the website at andalmanflynn.com or call 301.563.6685.