While divorce can be a tremendous emotional endeavor, it’s also a major financial transaction. It might even be the biggest shift of assets that you’ll see in your life. This means that the outcome of your divorce can affect your financial standing for years to come. With this in mind, it’s imperative that you understand New Hampshire’s property division laws and what you can do to protect your interests. This is particularly true if you have complex assets or assets that have significant value.
New Hampshire’s property division law
We have to start by looking at the law. New Hampshire recognizes equitable distribution when it comes to property division. This means that marital assets are divided in a fashion that the court sees as fair, but that doesn’t mean that the assets will necessarily be divided equally. So let’s look at some issue with equitable distribution and what you can do to better position yourself for success.
Marital assets and comingling
In general terms, marital assets are those properties that are acquired during the course of marriage. Property that was obtained prior to marriage or via gift or inheritance, even if during the course of marriage, are usually considered individual property and therefore exempt from property division. However, individual property can become marital property. This occurs through a process known as commingling. For example, inherited money that is deposited into a joint bank account that is used to pay expenses like a mortgage or a spouse’s student loans will likely be considered marital property and thereby subject to property division. If you own a business that was opened prior to marriage, then you’ll also want to take into account any appreciation or new business assets that were acquired subsequent to marriage.
Far too often, spouse’s who see divorce on the horizon start to tuck marital assets away for themselves in an attempt to remove it from the marital estate and the property division process that comes along with it. These individuals might withdraw cash from a jointly held account and deposit it in their own individually held account, or they may retitle property into the names of another. They might even spend money on things that only benefit themselves as the marriage continues to unravel.
Hiding and wasting assets in this fashion is unacceptable, but it’s often hard to spot unless you know what you’re looking for. That’s why acquiring help from a forensic accountant may be an option for you to identify and obtain your fair share of those assets that are hidden.
Dealing with the “equitable” part of division
New Hampshire law presumes that an equal split of marital property is fair. However, there are a lot of factors that can justify a deviation from that presumption, and courts often do stray from an equal division. A court may take any of the following into account when dividing property:
- The length of the marriage
- The ability of each spouse to earn money and acquire wealth post-divorce
- Which parent will have primary physical custody of the children and whether that parent needs to own the marital residence
- The financial contributions made by each spouse
- Fault for the marriage’s dissolution
These factors, which are not exhaustive of those identified under law, give you a lot of room for argument.
What you can do to protect your interests
If you’ve got assets to worry about during your divorce, then you need to be proactive in protecting your interest. One of the best ways to do this is to be prepared with a strong negotiation strategy. If you can control the outcome of your property division by negotiating a settlement, then you take that power away from a judge who knows very little about you and your family.
That’s not to say that you should settle your case at all costs. On the contrary, you need to be ready to litigate from day one. Address each and every factor of equitable division and look for hidden and commingled assets. Know which assets are most important to you, whether it’s the family home, your retirement accounts, or your business. Only then can you develop the legal strategy that is right for you and best positions you for success.