Dividing Property in Medford Divorce Hearings

Dividing the property between spouses can be one of the most difficult phases of a divorce proceeding. Whether the “property” owned by you and your spouse is minimal or substantial, the best course of action is to retain the services of a qualified divorce attorney to guide you through the many complicated steps involved in a divorce, especially the division of property. In my practice as a family law attorney, I specialize in handling all legal and financial issues that arise in a divorce proceeding, and I can help you navigate what is always a complex and emotionally stressful time.

When you divorce in Oregon, current divorce law requires an accounting of all of your property as well as all of your debts in order to divide them between you and your spouse, even those that are owned or owed separately from each other.

In the State of Oregon, “property” is essentially the same as “assets,” and refers to all holdings of either spouse. This will include your home, other real estate holdings, all personal belongings (including clothing, furniture, vehicles, pets, etc.), and any funds in bank accounts or trusts, investments, stock options, retirement benefits, pensions, or other business interests.

An “accounting” of your property means that each of you must first take inventory of and list all of your assets. In Oregon, any property owned by either spouse can be divided by the court regardless of who purchased or acquired it. The court can, however, characterize assets as either “marital assets or “separate assets.” This is an important distinction as different legal standards apply to the division of these assets and assets characterized as “separate” are less likely to be divided in a divorce. An asset is often considered separate, if it was owned before the marriage or acquired in a certain way, such as through an inheritance, a trust fund, or insurance settlement. Often what is considered “marital” and what is considered “separate” becomes an issue for debate in the course of divorce proceedings.

Once you have a complete accounting of all your respective assets, the next step is to determine how much each asset is worth. If you and your spouse have a significant amount of assets together, own a business or several pieces of property together, then this process will be very complex. In this case I will help you retain the services of an independent forensic accountant or other specialist who can accurately place a value on all of your property so that it may be divided. Professional practices, such as medical practices or other businesses in which personal services are provided, are subject to sometimes confusing legal standards that will require the assistance of a divorce attorney. If your holdings are substantial it is probably that both you and your spouse have retained their own attorney by this time. In addition, when businesses need to be valued, spouses generally hire their own independent business analyst to place a valuation on the property. If you are in this situation, the valuation of business interests or other property will likely become an issue of debate as well.

Property Settlements vs. Court Ordered Settlements

5354336_sIf a couple can agree on how to divide their mutual assets and debts, then they may proceed with a “settlement,” and the divorce may be finalized without a trial. Unfortunately, the issue of dividing what was once shared property is often one of the most difficult areas for a couple to agree on., Frequently, the couple must go to trial and have a court decide the value and division of property for them. A couple’s property certainly has financial value, but when a relationship is ending that property takes on a highly charged emotional value as well. A home or business may have been started and built together, or left to one spouse by their parents, yet when a divorce proceeding starts, much of a couple’s property – meaning their life together – is no longer in their control, but in the hands of the court system. Oregon divorce law follows “equitable distribution,” and will look at the property and debts shared by you and your spouse, and divide them on the basis of what is considered “fair and equitable,” but this does not necessarily mean that the division of your property and debts will be exactly 50/50. It means that your property will be divided according to what the court feels is “just and proper,” and this is something that you may or may not agree on with. A divorce proceeding can become extremely contentious in the course of dividing a couple’s property, in spite of all efforts to achieve an amicable divorce. In order to arrive at this decision the Oregon divorce court may consider:

• The contribution of each spouse to the acquisition of the marital property, including contribution of each spouse as a homemaker
• Whether the property award is instead of, or in addition to any spousal support
• The cost of any sale of the assets
• The amount of debt owed individually and separately
• Taxes and liens on property
• All retirement benefits, including social security and military benefits
• Life insurance coverage
• Personal issues such as age and health

The importance of obtaining a fair division of property cannot be underestimated. Once the divorce decree is finalized, it cannot be changed without substantial proof of failure to disclose assets. The division of your property will have a lasting impact on your life, your children, your job expectations, and even your retirement plans, so it’s imperative that you seek representation that will help you achieve fair treatment and resolve your divorce as peacefully as possible.