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How is marital property divided in New Jersey?

On Behalf of | May 18, 2021 | Property Division

Whether you were married for decades or just a few years, you and your spouse probably accumulated quite a bit of jointly owned property. Now that you are divorcing, you need to figure out how to handle all of that marital property. You will decide how to divide this property during a process called property division.

One of the more popular narratives with which you might be familiar is that you will automatically receive half of everything. This is simply not the case. In New Jersey, divorcing couples will split property in a way that is equitable, not necessarily equal.

What is marital property?

In general, any property that you or your spouse acquired during your marriage is marital property. Anything you brought into the marriage should still be your own personal property. Some of the most common examples of marital property include:

  • The family home
  • Vehicles
  • Pets
  • Debt

There are exceptions to what is marital property and what is separate property. Inheritances and items specifically gifted to just one spouse are typically separate property even when acquired during marriage. However, commingling of separate and marital assets — such as depositing an inheritance into a joint bank account — can actually make an asset switch to being joint property.

What about the house?

Buying a home is one of the biggest investments you may ever make. The financial and emotional attachment you have to your home might make it a high priority during property division. You might be especially concerned about what happens to the home if you have children.

It is fairly common for the parent who maintains primary custody of the children to also keep the home in the divorce. If you choose to keep the home for this or any other reason, and your ex agrees, it does not erase his or her financial obligation to the mortgage. In this example, you would need to secure a mortgage in your own name and “buy” him or her out. You can also choose to sell the home and split the profits.

Who has to pay the debt?

Barring extenuating circumstances, you will probably both be responsible for a portion of the debt. Again, do not expect to split your debt 50/50 — either one of you could end up paying back a larger portion of what you jointly owe. There are also possible complications if your ex takes on the responsibility of paying back a debt in your name.

Deciding who gets to keep what can be a deeply personal matter, and it is not uncommon for New Jersey couples to want to have the final say. One can accomplish this through mediation or arbitration, although it is still wise to have someone present who can advocate for your own interests. When couples are unable to reach their own agreement, a judge will decide property division have the final say in the matter.