If you are currently involved in a contested divorce in Alabama, you know firsthand the fear and uncertainty that can accompany the distribution of marital assets. Many parties are afraid that they will walk away from the divorce process with nothing, either because they did not bring a large amount of assets into the marriage, did not work outside the home during the marriage, or other financial concerns. Fortunately, most people facing this type of situation are not at an inherent disadvantage when marital assets are distributed because of a legal doctrine known as “equitable distribution.”
Equitable distribution refers to the fair and reasonable distribution of assets during a divorce. Equitable distribution is not the same as equal distribution: spouses are not guaranteed that they will receive 50% of the marital assets. Rather, the judge will consider many factors when determining what distribution will be fair and reasonable to both parties based on their unique circumstances. Additionally, certain assets are considered separate from marital assets: property acquired prior to the marriage, gifts, and inheritances are usually exempt from equitable distribution and remain the property of the spouse who received them.
Alabama law allows a judge in a contested divorce to consider a number of factors in determining what distribution of assets is equitable. After being presented with all the evidence regarding the individual factors, the judge then considers what kind of financial state each party will be in after the divorce and begins dividing assets so that the parties’ standings are as fair as possible. Factors that the judge will consider include:
- The earning capacity of each party
- Duration of the marriage
- Past status as homemaker or care-giver to minors
- Which spouse will be the custodial parent of children
- Age and health of each party
- Certain damaging behaviors during the marriage by either party, such as abuse, infidelity, or reckless spending with the intent of minimizing the total amount of assets to be distributed in a divorce
While consideration of the above factors helps to focus the determination of the court, there still exists a significant amount of leeway in determining the dollar amount value of each factor, as well as what distribution of assets constitutes “equitable.” Because the judge’s interpretation of what is equitable is subjective, it is important that a spouse who is involved in a contested divorce receive the counsel of an experienced family law attorney.
Your attorney can help you gather evidence to accurately represent your financial and domestic contributions to the marriage, as well as evidence of any wrongdoing by your spouse, to ensure that you receive the assets to which you are rightfully entitled. If you are an Alabama resident who is party to a contested divorce, the law firm of John M. Totten, P.C. can provide extensive experience and aggressive representation to ensure that your assets are protected.