Who gets the house? An overview of New Jersey’s marital property laws

New Jersey has specific laws that determine what property may be divided in a divorce and the factors a judge may consider when doing so.

Of the many aspects of a divorce that people in New Jersey consider, the division of property is one of the most complicated. There are state laws that dictate roughly how the process goes, though the courts have some discretion based on a number of factors.

Splitting up items is certainly not easy, though it may go smoother if the parties involved have an understanding of the way the law works. Here, we take a look at the basics of New Jersey property division and the factors a judge may consider.

Defining marital property

In New Jersey, just about any items that are obtained during the course of the marriage are considered marital property. Gifts given before the marriage - including the engagement ring - and inheritance are considered to be separate property.

Even if certain items acquired after the marriage have only one spouse's name on the title, a court typically still considers it marital property. For example, a couple purchases a home after being married a few years, but only puts one person's name on the title. The home may still be considered marital property because it was purchased after the wedding.

Equitable distribution

Once marital property has been defined, the process of dividing the assets may begin, as only marital property is divided. New Jersey does this through equitable distribution, which requires assets to be split based on what is reasonable and fair. This could mean items are divided evenly, or it could mean one person receives more than another.

This is in place to offer protection to people. Take, for instance, a spouse who quit working to raise children. Upon divorce, that spouse may not have an income or a place to live. A judge could look at that situation and divide property based on the best interests of all involved.

Determining factors

In some cases, a couple may be able to come up with a fair split on their own, through a mediation process or otherwise. When that is not possible, the courts will do it. Under the law, a judge may take any of the following into account when splitting assets:

  • Each spouse's income and economic circumstances
  • The age and health of each spouse
  • How long the marriage lasted
  • How each spouse contributed to the marital property (including time spent as a homemaker)
  • Pre- or post-nuptial agreements

The law also states that the courts may consider any other item that could be relevant to the case.

Important considerations

Finally, people going through a divorce should keep in mind a few important items. The first is to make sure that all marital property is valued correctly. This may require getting a home appraised or bringing in specialists to value art collections, jewelry or other items.

Also, it is possible for spouses to attempt to hide assets when a divorce is imminent. Working with the right professionals, such as a seasoned attorney and a forensic accountant, could help uncover this type of misconduct.

Lastly, there are a multitude of tax implications that apply to dividing assets. Selling a home or splitting retirement accounts could have immediate and future consequences, tax-wise. These should be taken into account when determining the true worth of an asset.

Anyone who has questions about this topic should speak with a family law attorney in New Jersey.