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Sometimes equity in property division requires force of law

Minnesota is an equitable distribution state in the context of divorce. What that means is that when a married couple seeks a divorce, the expectation is that any assets owned by the couple will be equitably divided between the parties.

Word choice is important here. Equitable distribution does not necessarily mean equally divided because the court has the discretion to make an “equitable” as opposed to “equal” division of marital property and debts. That said, marital property and debts are generally divided equally in divorce proceedings. The presumption is that property acquired during the marriage is marital (for example funds held in joint accounts at any time during the marriage). This presumption extends to any assets owned by either party held in joint or individual names such as retirement accounts and retirement benefits accumulated during the marriage. If a spouse asserts that some of his or her property is nonmarital, it will be up to that spouse to overcome the marital presumption by making and proving his or her nonmarital claim.

Both parties have a fiduciary duty to disclose all of their assets and liabilities in the divorce process to allow a final settlement that is fair and equitable.

The importance of transparency to the courts can be seen in a recent news story reporting that a Hennepin County District Court jury found a University of Minnesota professor guilty of falsifying his retirement account’s value in an attempt to cheat his ex-wife out of her share. The professor was convicted of criminal charges in connection with his 2016 divorce. Specifically, a jury found the prominent educator guilty of one count of attempted theft by swindle and two counts of aggravated forgery.  An investigation concluded that the man's ex-wife could have been denied more than $350,000 in assets to which she was entitled.  Sentencing is scheduled for November 2018.

Property division can be the source of some of the greatest conflict in the divorce process. If a party makes a showing of nonmarital property, that property typically is excluded from the marital estate and there is no distribution to the other party/spouse. At the same time, there's a need to ensure that marital property is justly classified for the sake of each spouse's interest. In either case, the skill of an experienced attorney will prove invaluable in the process. The experienced attorneys at Mack & Santana Law Offices, P.C., are available to help address these issues for those going through the divorce process. 

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