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When it comes to the dissolution of a marriage, the division of shared assets and property can become a complex and sensitive issue, encompassing everything from cherished mementos to substantial financial investments. Understanding the nuances of how marital property division works in Maryland is essential to ensure a just and equitable distribution following the end of your marriage.
Defining Marital Property in Maryland
In Maryland, marital property refers to any assets or possessions acquired by either spouse during the course of the marriage, regardless of whether they are held in one party’s name or jointly owned. The state’s legal framework mandates that all marital property be subject to a fair and equitable division during divorce proceedings. This includes a wide range of assets such as:
Real estate, including primary residences, rental properties, vacation homes, and timeshares.
Vehicles like cars, boats, and recreational vehicles.
Financial accounts, including bank, investment, and brokerage accounts.
Personal belongings, collections, and firearms.
Ownership stakes in family businesses.
Intellectual property rights.
Maryland’s Approach to Marital Property Division
Maryland follows an “equitable distribution” model, which means that divorce judges are not obliged to split property down the middle but rather have the discretion to distribute assets in a manner deemed fair under the given circumstances. In practice, this often results in an approximately equal division of property. Maryland’s property division laws require judges to:
Determine whether property falls under the categories of marital, non-marital, or family use personal property.
Assess the value of each asset.
Apply principles of fairness to the property division process.
Property can be categorized as either marital or separate. Non-marital property, also known as separate property, must meet one of the following criteria:
Acquired before the marriage (e.g., retirement benefits from a pre-marital job).
Received as a gift or inheritance, even during the marriage.
Exempted through a valid prenuptial agreement, post-nuptial agreement, or other legally binding contract.
Directly traceable to any of the above categories (e.g., a car purchased and maintained using inherited funds).
Property may also have elements of both marital and separate property. For instance, if one spouse bought a house before the marriage, but marital funds were used to pay the mortgage during the marriage, the non-owning spouse may be entitled to a fair share of the increased property value.
In Maryland, divorce courts generally cannot transfer property titles or allocate debts to individuals who are not party to the lending contract. This means that each party remains responsible for debts in their name, even if they were incurred for the benefit of the family.
Often, the party whose name appears on the mortgage or car loan will also be awarded the associated property. The court can consider how debts are distributed when determining the equitable division of marital property, as well as any monetary awards designed to offset family-related debts or property values held solely in one party’s name.
Family Use Personal Property and Family Home
In order to maintain stability for children, Maryland divorce judges have the authority to designate certain property as “family use personal property” or a “family home,” granting exclusive use and possession to the spouse awarded custody for up to three years. In some cases, this may result in one party being responsible for the family home’s mortgage while the other party and the children continue to reside there.
Factors for Achieving Equitable Division
To reach a fair division of marital property, the court considers various factors, including:
Contributions made by each party, both monetary and non-monetary.
The value of all property interests held by each party.
The economic circumstances of each party at the time of the divorce.
The reasons for the estrangement between the spouses.
The duration of the marriage.
The age and physical/mental health of each party.
The acquisition of retirement assets and family use personal property and who acquired them.
Contributions to real property held as tenants by the entirety (e.g., the marital home).
Any alimony awards, family use personal property or family home awards.
Any other relevant factors that the court deems necessary to arrive at a fair and equitable monetary award or property interest transfer.
Should your case proceed to trial, the court will take these factors into account when crafting a property division it deems equitable, though it may not always align with one or both parties’ perception of fairness.
If you wish to avoid the time, effort, and expense of litigating the value of each asset in court, prioritize maintaining a positive relationship with your former spouse for co-parenting or future interactions, or have concerns about the confidentiality of your financial information, the Law Offices of Sandra Guzman Salvado can help you resolve property disposition disputes through negotiation, mediation, or collaborative law. These methods often lead to swift and amicable resolutions, safeguarding the property you seek to protect.
Speak With Our Maryland Division of Property Lawyers at (301) 340-1911 Today!
Property division can be complicated and stressful, particularly when it involves property of uncertain value or disputes regarding the characterization of property as marital or separate. The Law Offices of Sandra Guzman Salvado, staffed with experienced Maryland property division attorneys, offer top-tier legal support to clients in Montgomery, Frederick, Prince George’s, Anne Arundel, and Howard counties. Our office locations in Bethesda, Frederick, Greenbelt, and Rockville, Maryland ensure that our legal services are easily accessible and convenient for our clients.