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Understanding Marital Property in Alabama

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Getting a divorce is never easy, even when the decision is mutual. This is the person you’ve made a life with—and with whom you intended to spend your old age. Life happens, of course, and divorce is one of those life issues that can leave you reeling. When children are involved, many divorces become even more contentious, requiring parents who may not want to be in the same zip code as their ex to work with them for the good of the children. The division of marital property is another divorce issue that can quickly become contentious. How about the China set your Aunt Liz gave you and your spouse as a wedding gift? He loved it, you were less enthusiastic, but she is your aunt, which makes it yours, right?

There can be literally hundreds of these “how to split” decisions that range from small items, all the way to houses, bank accounts, vehicles, and more. Understanding marital property in Alabama is crucial if you are considering divorce. Alabama is considered an equitable distribution state rather than a community property state, which is a crucial distinction when dividing marital assets. Under community property law, all marital assets are divided right down the middle, while under the rule of equitable distribution, marital assets are divided fairly, although not necessarily equally.

Despite being an equitable division state, in Alabama (and in all the states in the United States) while the division of assets may be intended to be fair, it doesn’t always end up that way. In fact, according to the AACFL, the financial impact of a divorce is typically much less severe for men as compared to women. A man over the age of 50 who divorces will see his income drop by 23 percent, while a woman over the age of 50 who divorces will see her income drop by 41 percent or more.

The question of which assets are considered marital assets will make a difference in the division of Alabama marital property. Understanding marital property in Alabama can be significantly easier when you choose a divorce attorney from Hankey Law Firm to guide you through the process. Attorney Shelbie Hankey is a highly experienced divorce attorney with comprehensive knowledge of how marital property in Alabama is divided. If you are looking for an attorney with integrity who believes in communicating with her clients while being the advocate they need and deserve, your choice is clear—Hankey Law Firm.

What is Considered Marital Property in Alabama? 

Most property acquired during a marriage will be considered marital property, thus subject to the laws of equitable distribution. There are, however, exceptions, which include items that were purchased by one spouse prior to the marriage, or those items inherited by one spouse before or after the marriage. Like most things in life, there are also exceptions to those exceptions. It is essential that you have a knowledgeable Alabama divorce attorney by your side who can help you sort out what assets you are entitled to during the divorce.

What Are the Marital Property Laws in Alabama?

Under the equitable distribution laws in Alabama, a judge will take many different factors into consideration when making determinations on the division of marital property. These factors include:

  • The present and future earning potential of each spouse 
  • How long you and your spouse have been married 
  • Relevant tax consequences to each spouse when the property is distributed 
  • The health and age of both you and your spouse 
  • If there are children, the custody and living arrangements for those children will be considered  
  • Whether either spouse contributed to the increased earning power or education of the other (i.e., if you worked while your spouse attended medical school) 
  • What the overall standard of living was for you and your spouse during the marriage 
  • A spouse who stayed home to raise the children or one who was a homemaker while the other had an outside job will be given consideration for those services 
  • The types of assets owned by the couple and the value of those assets 
  • The needs of each spouse 
  • Whether either spouse has alternate sources of income, such as disability benefits, health insurance, or retirement benefits 
  • Whether either spouse contributed to the breakdown of the marriage if the marriage is filed on fault-based grounds 

Is Property Owned by a Spouse Prior to Marriage Considered Marital Property in Alabama? 

If you purchased a home prior to your marriage, and your new spouse moved into the home, your equity into the home at the time of your marriage remains yours alone—so long as you never add your spouse to the title of the home. Most people don’t buy a home outright, so any payments you make on the house during your marriage are made from marital assets. Suppose you and your spouse live in the home for two decades, using marital assets to pay the mortgage, the insurance, and to make improvements.

The value of the house increases in value over those years by $500,000, so your spouse is entitled to a portion of this increase in value, a portion of the marital assets used to make improvements, pay the mortgage, and pay for home insurance, and a portion of the equity accrued in the home since the marriage. As you might imagine, for a marriage of longer duration, this equation can be complex, definitely benefitting from the assistance of a highly experienced Hankey Law Firm attorney.

When Do Gifts or Inheritances Become Marital Property? 

Suppose you inherited a house from your Uncle Roy before you married. After your marriage, you add your spouse’s name on the title of the house along with your own name. Once you do that, the house becomes marital property, even though it was an inheritance meant for you. What if you never placed your spouse’s name on the title of the house?

If you used marital assets to make improvements to the house through the years, then like a home owned by one spouse prior to the marriage, at least part of the home is subject to marital asset division. Your spouse could be entitled to a portion of the value of the improvements as well as a portion of the increase in the home’s value upon your divorce.

If you were left money by a relative either before or during your marriage, technically speaking, that money is yours alone, not subject to marital property division. This is true unless you co-mingled the account with the money in it—i.e., you added your spouse’s name to the bank account and added marital money to the account over the years. While in your mind the $50,000 left to you still remains yours alone, once the funds were co-mingled they became marital property. 

What about gifts given to you by your spouse during your marriage or vice-versa? You might think that a gift given to you by your spouse is yours alone, but this is not the case. If your spouse gave you a Mercedes for your 40th birthday, and two years later you are headed for divorce court, depending on the totality of your circumstances and assets, your spouse could be entitled to half the value of the vehicle.

What Are Some Strategies for Dividing Marital Property in a Divorce? 

The two primary categories of property are real property and personal property. Real property includes land and the buildings on the land. When one spouse wishes to keep a parcel of land or the marital home (when it is considered marital property and may even have a mortgage), the complexities multiply. The spouse that wants to keep the home or property may be required to buy the other’s interest out or to give up other assets in order to keep the home or land.

Personal property includes those things that can be moved like furniture, vehicles, motorcycles, boats, antiques, artwork, jewelry, electronics, and all other personal items. It can be helpful to make a comprehensive inventory of all marital property in Alabama, then each spouse can indicate which property they are willing to keep and which they are willing to negotiate on.

How the Hankey Law Firm Can Help with Your Alabama Marital Property Dispute 

Dividing marital property in Alabama can be contentious, as noted. The Hankey Law Firm can help the process be less contentious, helping you understand which property is marital, which is separate, and how the marital property can be divided. Attorney Shelbie Hankey understands that many people are worried and feeling uncertain about the legal process. She will answer your questions in a comprehensive, yet easy-to-understand manner, helping you make sense of your new circumstances. Contact Hankey Law Firm today.