Can You Divorce Without Splitting Assets – Forbes Advisor – Forbes

23 minutes, 48 seconds Read

Can you divorce without splitting assets? This is a common question when people are ending their marriages. That’s because marriage is a financial as well as an emotional partnership, and you may be concerned about losing property when the marriage ends.

The reality is, anything you and your spouse owned during the marriage must be owned by someone after the union ends—so you need some arrangement for dividing up property. This does not, however, mean that your ex will walk away with half of your assets.

Here’s what you need to know about how property division works in divorce.

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Can You Divorce Without Splitting Assets?

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When a couple divorces, the division of property could be determined in a number of different ways—and many of them do not involve splitting assets 50/50 or even in a manner that’s close to equal. There are a few key things to know about how property is divided.

Separate vs. Marital Property

The first thing to know is whether assets must be divided at all. Property is classified as one of two types in a divorce:

  • Separate property. Property brought by either person into the marriage is separate property and does not have to be divided. Separate property not only includes property acquired before marriage, but it can also include gifts or inheritances given only to one spouse during the marriage. It continues to belong to the person who owned it prior to marriage as long as it wasn’t mixed with, or co-mingled with, marital property or if the other spouse did not assist with upkeep or improvements (such as with a home).
  • Marital property. Most property acquired by either person while married is marital property and this is what is divided in a divorce. A prenuptial or postnuptial agreement could control division, the couples could negotiate and agree on how to divide it during their divorce or a third-party judge or arbitrator could determine how it should be divided.

So if you have only separate property, you can keep it for yourself without splitting it. And if you have marital property, you and your spouse can decide on your own how it should be divided when negotiating a premarital agreement, a post-marital agreement or a divorce settlement.

If you cannot do that, then the court will decide for you and the outcome will depend on the rules where you live.

Equitable Distribution vs. Community Property

Even when marital property is divided by the court, this does not mean it must be divided in half. State laws apply to determine an appropriate outcome and states have two different systems for this division:

  • Community property. Marital assets and debts are split 50/50 under this approach. Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin are community property states.
  • Equitable distribution. The remainder of states follow equitable distribution rules where property is divided fairly but not always evenly. Courts consider factors like the length of the marriage and each party’s contributions to it when deciding how to divide marital assets and debts.

Assets have to be split only if they are marital property (or commingled separate property). And they must be split evenly—or 50/50—only if you and your spouse agreed to that at some point, if you live in a community property state or if you live in an equitable distribution state and the court decides a 50/50 split makes sense.


How to Avoid Splitting Assets in a Divorce

If you do not want to split up your assets in a divorce, there are several different ways to prevent that.

Maintain Separate Property

If you bring property into the marriage and you want to make sure it remains separate, take steps to keep it separate. Do not mix your money in investment accounts with your spouse or add your spouse’s name to bank accounts. If your loved ones give you a gift or an inheritance, be sure it is in your name only. Do not add your spouse to your house or property titles.

If your spouse takes steps such as paying a mortgage on a home you earned prior to marriage or working to improve that home, be aware they may acquire an equity interest in that property and are entitled to part of that value if you divorce.

Keeping property separate can be difficult because being married often involves commingling your financial lives.

Create a Prenuptial or Postnuptial Agreement

You can determine in advance how property will be divided if you and your spouse enter into a premarital or postnuptial agreement.

Premarital agreements, or prenups, are created before you get married. You can address issues like property division in these contracts, but typically not do things like limit child support. You should be sure your prenup is valid and enforceable. State rules differ, but usually it should be in writing and both parties must have had an opportunity to carefully review the agreement before signing.

You can also create a postnuptial agreement after you are married but before you divorce. This contract can specify how assets should be divided in the event you decide to dissolve your union. Be sure to follow your state’s rules for creating an enforceable contract.

When drafting a prenup or postnup, both spouses must voluntarily agree to sign the contract. There’s a chance your spouse may not agree to give up access to shared marital assets when you negotiate the terms. Working with a mediator can help you find an agreement that satisfies both of you.

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Draft Your Own Divorce Settlement Agreement

When you and your spouse decide to divorce, you can work together to decide how property should be divided. You can do this on your own (ideally with legal counsel providing advice to protect your rights), or you can get a mediator to guide discussions.

You and your spouse need to agree on what is fair and create a plan for how to divide all your marital assets and debts. If you can come to a compromise, you submit it to the court to become part of your divorce judgment. If the settlement you create deals with all issues raised by your divorce, including property division, custody and alimony, you may be able to get an uncontested divorce.

An experienced family law attorney can assist you in exploring these and other options for divorcing without splitting assets.

Maintain Joint Ownership

In some situations, couples choose not to divide some marital assets and continue joint ownership after divorce. One common situation is if you own a home that is upside down (is mortgaged for more than you could sell it for) or if one parent will live in the home with the children and cannot afford to refinance the mortgage into their own name. The couple continues to jointly own the home and plans to sell it in the future.

Continued joint ownership is also a possible solution if you have a family business. Selling the business may not be an option, and spouses may agree to continue to manage the business together after divorce.

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Who loses the most in a divorce?

Ideally, a divorce settlement should be fair and equitable and neither spouse will lose more than the other. Couples can negotiate how to divide assets and try to find a compromise they are happy with. If they can’t, courts will either use community property or equitable distribution rules to determine how to split up marital property.

Community property requires a 50/50 split while equitable distribution means assets are split fairly but not always equally. An experienced family law attorney can help protect your rights during divorce to maximize the chances of a fair outcome.

How do you survive financially in a divorce?

The best way to survive financially in a divorce is to know your rights and to try to make the divorce as inexpensive as possible. If you and your spouse can agree on the issues and pursue an uncontested divorce, it should be cheaper and hopefully result in better financial outcomes for both parties. Trained mediators can help you find compromise and attorneys can help protect your rights so you walk away with a fair divorce settlement.

How do you gracefully divorce?

Pursuing an uncontested divorce can be a good choice. With this approach, you and your spouse agree on issues raised by the end of your marriage. Working together, you draft your own divorce settlement addressing custody, alimony, child support and division of assets. This can be a cheaper process than a trial and it is cooperative rather than adversarial so it is less likely to cause further deterioration to your relationship.

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