Chandler property division lawyer

Handling property division issues for families in Phoenix Valley communities such as Gilbert, Mesa, Ahwatukee, and Sun Lakes

One of the most important yet often mishandled issues in a divorce or legal separation is the division of property and debt. Because Arizona is a community property state, many divorcing or separating couples find that the rules for dividing their assets and debt are different than expected. A simple mistake can cost you thousands of dollars, so hiring a Chandler property division lawyer to review your matter and guide you is always a wise investment.

Definition of property division

Just like it sounds, property division is dividing or separating property between two people. In family law, this generally arises when spouses divorce or legally separate, or unmarried partners go their separate ways. Regardless, it is something that deserves much thought and attention. You need to be sure you don’t relinquish something valuable and that you are willing to give up things that aren’t as important to you but can be powerful bargaining chips.

Property can take many forms. It can be real property, such as a house, commercial building, or land. It can be personal property, such as furniture or clothing. It can be titled property, which is a type of personal property that carries a title, such as a car or boat. Or it can be an intangible asset, such as an interest in a family business. You can’t split these things, so it is important to properly decide who should get them. It is also important to consider the tax implications of how the property is split, something many divorcing couples and even some attorneys overlook.

Community versus sole and separate property

Arizona recognizes a marital property legal framework known as community property. Essentially, community property means that what’s yours is mine and what’s mine is yours—that is, 100 percent indivisible—during an intact marriage, which is defined as the period after the wedding and before the couple separates or a spouse files for divorce. The basic idea is that everything should be shared for the good of the whole.

The exception to this is sole and separate property, which rightfully belongs to only one spouse or the other, not both. It can consist of anything acquired by only one person before the marriage, after a divorce or legal separation filing, or during the marriage through inheritance, gift, or separate earnings. It stays separate throughout the marriage as long as it is kept apart from and not commingled with community property, such as by depositing it into a joint checking account.

In a divorce or legal separation, community property is split 50/50 between both spouses, unless agreed otherwise in the divorce decree. Sole and separate property normally goes to the spouse to whom it belongs. Sometimes there are gray areas in determining which property is part of the marital community and which is sole and separate. So it is important to have an experienced Arizona property division review your situation and help you get what is legally yours.

Challenges of property division

Even if the couple parts ways amicably, sometimes there is no easy way to evenly distribute the property. For example, most people have only one house. In today’s real estate market, the house may be underwater, meaning the couple owes more on the mortgage than what the house is worth. So which spouse is awarded, or sometimes burdened by, the former marital residence is a difficult but important decision.

Also, it used to be that the mother almost always would be awarded sole, or at least primary, physical custody of the kids. As a result, she generally would also be awarded the house so the kids would not have to move. They could keep going to the same school, hang out with the same friends, and sleep in the same beds. These days, the father is nearly as likely as the mother to be awarded primary custody. He is also more likely to be awarded the house because men tend to be better able to afford it. (Despite great strides toward pay equality, women still earn less than men—only about 77 cents on the male dollar, according to one study.)

Don’t fight over the toaster

Many divorcing couples make an extensive list of every appliance, piece of furniture, photograph, and book that was in the household they shared. It’s better not to sweat the small stuff. As any divorce lawyer can tell you, perfectly rational people can get downright petty about the smallest, least important items during a divorce. They may fight tooth and nail over who gets the blender that made all those fabulous margaritas for pool parties, or who gets the Fiesta salt-and-pepper shaker set that Uncle Harry gave them as a wedding gift.

If a belonging is not something you have some great sentimental attachment to, need for everyday living but cannot easily replace, or can sell for a lot of money and use the proceeds as an offset against property awarded to your spouse, don’t bother with it. Fighting for it is not worth the cost in either attorneys’ fees or emotional energy. Let it go. Really, let it go.

Division of debts

Just as property is split during a divorce or separation, so are debts. As with asset division, if the parties cannot agree on how to divide their debts, the judge decides for them.

The court first reviews whose name is associated with the debt, such as a credit card for which one spouse is the account owner and the other is merely a signatory, that is, someone who is issued a second card and can sign for purchases. However, if the secondary signatory is the one who runs up the vast majority of the charges on the account, that person may be “awarded” the debt and ordered to pay off the entire balance. Or the court may decide it was used for the mutual benefit of the marital community (both spouses or the entire household) and order each spouse to pay 50 percent of the outstanding balance as of a specific date, typically the filing date or date the divorce is final.

One important piece of advice: Don’t try to get out of your shared responsibility for community debts by removing your name from or closing a joint account after the filing. The judge won’t be happy with you, and you can expect your outcome to suffer accordingly.

Consult with a Chandler property division lawyer

As you can see, property division is much more complicated than it might at first seem. Failing to be proactive or letting the judge or opposing party decide, without question, how the property and debts will be divided is one of the costliest mistakes many people make in a divorce or legal separation. Before making any decisions about these matters, seek the advice of an Arizona family law attorney who has extensive knowledge of asset and debt distribution and community property law.

Call Joan Bundy Law at 480.463.4600 to talk with a Chandler property division lawyer about your legal options and possible strategies.

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