Yours, Mine and Ours – How Property is Divided at Divorce

Yours, Mine and Ours – How Property is Divided at Divorce

In Wisconsin, property is presumed to be equally divided between the parties in a divorce action. Almost all property owned by the parties is subject to equal division. This includes property that is titled solely in one spouse’s name and property acquired by a spouse prior to the marriage. Only property acquired by way of gift or inheritance made to an individual is excluded from the division of marital property.

While it is presumed that all property not acquired by gift or inheritance is to be divided equally, the courts can consider a litany of factors when a party requests an unequal property distribution. It is not uncommon for parties in a divorce action to ask the court to credit them for premarital assets. Similarly, courts are also allowed to consider the contribution of each party to the marriage, giving appropriate economic value to each party’s contribution in homemaking and child care services. Courts may be more likely to entertain such requests in cases of shorter-term marriages. However, the chances of success of arguments to alter the presumed equal division of property decrease when parties were married for a longer period of time. Ultimately, whether a court will deviate from the presumption of equal division is dependent on the unique facts of any given case.

Clients often ask how property is “equally” divided. It does not mean that both parties get a one-half ownership interest in each marital asset. Rather, each asset is given a value and entered into a spreadsheet under one of the parties’ columns. After all of the marital assets and debts are entered into the spreadsheet, each party is left with a net value of assets in their column. If a party’s net assets have a higher value than the other party’s net assets, it is common for the party with a higher value of net assets to pay an equalization payment to the other party to ensure an equal division of property.

Determination of who gets what asset and what value should be assigned to each asset may be mutually agreed to by the parties but is often litigated in contested divorces. If you have questions about property division in your divorce, contact our office to consult with one of our family law attorneys.

 

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