Lisa Owen, a family lawyer in Marietta, answers:
The judge or jury has broad discretion in determining how to divide marital property. Although a common misconception, the judge or jury is not required to divide marital property 50/50.
The judge or jury can look at all relevant factors when dividing marital property, including, but not limited to:
- The conduct of the parties during the marriage (for instance, did a party commit adultery, spend large sums of money on a paramour?).
- A party’s contribution to the property and maintenance of the property (not just monetary contributions (e.g., a stay-at-home mother maintained the property while the other spouse traveled extensively will still be entitled to an equitable division regardless of the fact she does not work).
- Intent of the parties regarding the ownership of the property (e.g., neither party placed their earnings in a joint account or joint investments and each paid their expenses separately).
- A party’s separate estate (e.g., during the marriage, one party inherited one million dollars, which remains in an individual account; although the inheritance is not subject to equitable division, the court may consider this separate wealth of one party when dividing the marital property).
- Length of the marriage (e.g., if parties are married for a short period of time is it fair to equally divide property that was acquired by the efforts of one spouse in that short time period?).
- Prior marriages of the parties (e.g., if a person has been married six times, and has accumulated wealth during the prior five marriages, is it fair to equally divide the property in the sixth marriage?).
- Contributions of each party to the family unit (e.g., one party works “around the clock” while the other party plays tennis, does not maintain the house, does not support the other spouse, and has a spending habit).
- The judge or jury may consider these factors, and all other relevant factors, when making this determination. Each case is factually unique, and therefore, there is no one-size-fits-all formula for this determination.