Under New Jersey law, the property that a couple acquired during the period of the marriage is considered marital property, regardless of the designation or title of the property. New Jersey courts apply an equitable standard to the division of this marital property, which means that the distribution is fair, but not necessarily equal. In order to determine who gets what during the divorce, there are many different factors that influence the judge’s decision. The basic process involves identifying all marital assets, valuing this property, and then distributing the property between the parties in accordance with what the court deems as equitable.
When a court is determining the division of assets, it will focus on the following guidelines established by N.J.S.A 2A:34-23.1:
- How long the parties were married;
- The condition of each spouse, including physical and emotional health, as well as age;
- The income or property that each spouse brought into the marriage;
- The couple’s standard of living during the marriage;
- Any applicable prenuptial or postnuptial agreements;
- The economic position of each spouse;
- Each spouse’s ability to earn money going forward, which is based upon education, experience, time since last employment, and obligations to care for any children;
- Each spouse’s sacrifice of career aspirations for the benefit of the other spouse or any children;
- How long it will take each spouse to obtain the education, training, or experience necessary to earn enough to achieve the standard of living that existed during the marriage;
- The support that one spouse gave to the other in support of education or a career, with a focus on increasing earning capacity;
- How each spouse contributed to an increase or decrease of assets during the marriage, including contributions as a homemaker, preserving or improving existing assets, or the wasting of assets through excess spending or other means;
- The impact that any distribution will have on the taxation of all parties;
- The value of the marital assets at the time of the distribution;
- The custody of any children and how marital assets will be used during the custody parent;
- The debts and liabilities of each spouse;
- Any present or future medical or educational costs that the spouse will reasonably incur; and
- Any other factors that the court may deem relevant to the division of assets.
Judges do have discretion in determining how to weight each factor and generally will consider the length of the marriage and the standard of living during that period first before looking at the other factors. In most instances, the longer the marriage, the more both spouses will be seen as contributing to the lifestyle. Although fault does not really come into play in the division of assets, egregious behavior such as spending the family fortune on a drug habit will be considered as a wasting of assets and a larger division will be made to the spouse who did not engage in such behavior.
Any debt incurred during the course of the marriage typically is divided equally between the parties, unless it was attributable to the actions of only one spouse or one spouse will benefit entirely from the debt. Often, the mortgage of the marital home is the largest debt and may require a sale of the home and division of the proceeds. If there are significant enough marital assets, one spouse may choose to “buyout” the interests of the other spouse in the home.
In New Jersey, a divorcing couple may choose to negotiate a division of property without the court, or may involve the assistance of a mediator. A judge or arbitrator will step in if this alternate process fails. There will be many complications throughout this process, including the division of retirement assets and the use of a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) to ensure that each spouse gets everything to which he or she is entitled. An experienced attorney can work with you to maximize your distribution and minimize the problems.