When a couple divorces in Arizona, the parties need to decide how to divide their property. If they cannot do it, the court will do it for them. Because Arizona is a community property state, the assets and debts accumulated by the couple during the marriage are presumed to belong equally to both parties. Although Arizona law does not require an equal division of assets and debts, the division must be fair and equitable to both parties. When dividing your property, you must first separate community property from one of the party’s separate property. Second, the parties must value the community property. Lastly, the parties must decide how to divide the community property.
Community Property versus Separate Property
Generally, all assets and debts accumulated during the marriage are presumed to be community property. This includes the income of both parties. If one party held property before the marriage, that property is deemed to be separate property. Likewise, any property acquired by gift or inheritance during the marriage is the receiving party’s separate property. The party claiming separate property must, however, be able to document the separate character of the property with financial records or other documents. There are situations in which separate property can become community property and community property can become separate property during the marriage. If you owned a home prior to the marriage and you place your spouses name on the deed, the law will presume that the home was a gift to the marital community, making it separate property. Even if you do not place your spouses name on the deed, any post-marriage improvements to the home and resulting equity may be community property. This takes place when the married parties income, community property, is used to pay down the mortgage or to pay for enhancements to the home. When divorcing, the parties will need to decide how much of the separate property is community property. Many forms of property can be considered both community and separate property, including a business, bank accounts, retirement accounts, motor vehicles, antiques, and other assets. If you have not yet married but want to ensure your separate property remains separate, you should seek the advice of an attorney before the marriage. For assistance classifying your assets, contact a family law attorney.
Valuing Community Property
Valuing community property or the community share of separate property can be a difficult task. If the parties seek to reduce costs associated with the divorce, the parties can agree on an appraiser to value the property for them if they cannot come to an agreement. Appraisers can be used to value any form of real property. With retirement accounts and businesses, the parties may need to hire a Certified Public Accountant or other professional. If you are currently in a divorce and the other party has hired an appraiser or other expert to value property for that party, you should hire your own expert to value the property on your behalf. In litigation, including divorce, hired experts will often under or over value property on behalf of their client. This could cost you substantially if you do not have your own expert’s appraisal. To learn how you can value your property in a divorce, contact a family law attorney.
There are many ways to divide assets. The parties could agree to sell an asset and split the proceeds. One party can also buy another party out. If there are multiple assets, the parties could agree to divide them in a way that each receives equal value. Sometimes parties will even continue to hold property in both of their names. This is not a good idea if the divorce was hostile but if the parties can cooperate and get along, jointly holding the home until the real estate market improves could benefit both. If the court divides the assets because the parties cannot, the court will divide them equitably though not necessarily equally. To discuss how you can divide your family’s assets with a family law attorney, contact us.
Assets are not the only things that get divided in a divorce. The parties must also decide how to divide the debt. The typical family’s debt includes a mortgage, one or more car loans, and credit card debt. Even if one party did not know the other party was incurring a debt, the debt remains a community debt if it was to benefit the community. When dividing debt, you should be aware that the court’s order dissolving the marriage and dividing assets and debts is not binding on community creditors. In other words, if your former spouse does not pay the debt, community creditors can pursue your assets. To discuss your family debt issues, contact a family law attorney.
There are few exceptions to the equal division of assets in Arizona. One exception is where one party to the marriage wasted community assets. If your spouse spends a considerable portion of assets on others (buying a lover expensive gifts) or engaging in activities like gambling or drug use, the court can allocate you more community property when it divides assets. Because dividing marital assets and debt can be a complex task, you should seek the advice of an attorney who can walk you through the process. For a free consultation to discuss your property division with a family law attorney, contact Blehm Law.