What is Marital Property in Utah?
Utah is an "equitable distribution" or "marital property" state as opposed to a "community property" state. This means that the marital property is divided in an "equitable" manner. So if your name appears on a property title, you are considered its owner. However, your spouse will have a legal right to claim an equitable portion of that property when divorcing.
While there are some exceptions for a separate property (below), marital property refers to anything of value acquired during the marriage, including (but not limited to):
- Real estate; personal property; vehicles; household items
- Bank accounts; investments; retirement accounts; debts, loans
Factors considered when dividing property
It's important to note that the marital property approach recognizes that one party may be entitled to more or less than 50% of the total assets to be split.
When dividing marital property, the court considers factors such as (but not limited to): the length of the marriage; the standard of living established during the marriage; the value of household management, including childcare; the income level of the parties as well as their future earning potential; and the age and health of the parties.
In the case of marriages of shorter duration, the court might opt to put both parties back in the economic position they were before getting married; essentially, you get back what was yours before the marriage, and they get back what was theirs. In general, personal property should be divided as agreed upon by the two parties, and if they cannot agree, the court will intervene and make a ruling on how things should be distributed.
That said, the higher income-earning spouse could receive a bigger piece of the pie by claiming they made greater financial contributions. But at the same time, the lower/no-income-earning spouse can make equitable claims by virtue of their personal contribution during the marriage (e.g., running the household, caring for the kids, assisting the spouse with their work).
What is separate property (i.e., not marital property)?
Separate property is considered a spouse's separate property and not divided when divorcing. This property may be:
- acquired by gift or inheritance
- acquired after legal separation
- in exchange for separate property
- excluded by valid agreement of the parties
How is the value of marital property determined?
The court divides marital property based on its value when the official divorce decree is issued, not the value at the time of separation. This is done by default unless you mutually decide otherwise through an agreement.
How do I get around marital property division rules?
The overall goal is to ensure both parties are treated fairly with respect to their investments in the marriage and their subsequent needs. That said, couples can divide assets in a manner they deem fair and have this agreement approved by the court, thereby avoiding the court process of dividing assets.
Limits and exceptions can be established by valid prenuptial and marital agreements. (The key word here is valid.) For example, anything included in the prenuptial agreement about child support, a child's healthcare and insurance expenses, or childcare expenses will not be adhered to by the court, as that is invalid. Why not? A prenuptial agreement cannot govern these aspects, even if you had an agreement on these matters and signed willingly.
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