Equitable Distribution: Property Division in a Missouri Divorce


When a marriage ends in divorce, one of the most complex issues to resolve is the division of assets and debts accumulated during the marriage. In Missouri, the principle of equitable distribution governs the property division process. This doesn't necessarily mean an equal split of property but rather a fair division based on a range of factors considered by the court. Understanding how equitable distribution works can help those going through a divorce better navigate these complexities.

What Is Equitable Distribution?

Equitable distribution is a method used by courts to divide marital property between divorcing spouses. Unlike community property states, where assets are typically divided 50/50, equitable distribution states aim for a fair division, which may not always be equal. In Missouri, the courts consider numerous factors to achieve what is deemed fair for both parties involved.

Factors Considered in Equitable Distribution

In the quest for fairness, Missouri courts evaluate a variety of factors to ensure that the division of marital property is equitable and just. The equitable distribution process is designed to reflect the unique circumstances of each marriage, recognizing that every relationship is different and requires a tailored approach when dividing property.

Missouri courts consider several factors when dividing marital property equitably, including but not limited to the following:

  • Economic circumstances of each spouse: This includes each party's income, earning potential, and financial needs.
  • Contribution to the acquisition of marital property: This not only includes financial contributions but also the role of a spouse as a homemaker or parent.
  • Value of non-marital property: The court looks at the separate assets each spouse will retain.
  • Conduct of the parties during the marriage: While Missouri is a no-fault divorce state, financial misconduct (e.g., wasting marital assets) can affect the division of property.
  • Custodial arrangements for children: The needs of the children and the custodial parent may influence the distribution of assets, including the family home.
  • Duration of the marriage: Generally, the longer the marriage, the more likely the property will be divided close to equally.
  • Any prenuptial or postnuptial agreements: Valid agreements can significantly influence how assets are divided.

With these factors in mind, the court divides marital assets and debts, including real estate, bank accounts, retirement accounts, vehicles, and personal property. Debts are handled similarly, with responsibility being divided between the spouses in a manner considered fair by the court. It's worth noting that the division of certain assets, particularly retirement accounts, can be complex and may require additional legal instruments like Qualified Domestic Relations Orders (QDROs) to divide them without incurring penalties.

Marital vs. Separate Property

The first step in the equitable distribution process is distinguishing between marital and separate property. Marital property includes most assets and debts acquired by either spouse during the marriage, regardless of whose name is on the title. Separate property refers to assets acquired before the marriage, gifts, and inheritances received by one spouse, and property designated as separate in a valid prenuptial agreement. It's important to understand that the distinction between marital and separate property can significantly impact how assets are divided. In some cases, the increase in value of separate property during the marriage can also be considered for distribution.

Challenges in Equitable Distribution

Despite the aim for fairness, equitable distribution can be contentious and complex. The valuation of assets, particularly businesses or professional practices, can be contentious. Additionally, one spouse may try to hide assets to skew the distribution in their favor. For these reasons, it's crucial for individuals going through a divorce to seek legal counsel experienced in Missouri's equitable distribution laws.

Divorce is a challenging process, and the division of assets can add to the stress and complexity. However, understanding how equitable distribution works can provide some clarity and help spouses approach this aspect of their divorce with a better understanding of what to expect. It's essential to remember that while the court aims for fairness, the outcome may not always align with each spouse's expectations. Therefore, working with a knowledgeable attorney can ensure that your rights and interests are adequately protected throughout the process.

Contact the Equitable Distribution Attorney at Galmiche Law Firm, P.C. Today

Navigating the waters of equitable distribution requires patience, negotiation, and compromise. But with the right approach and support, it's possible to reach a resolution that is fair and sets both parties on a path towards healing and rebuilding after divorce. Call (636) 552-4841 today to schedule a consultation.

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