When divorcing spouses in Tennessee are unable to reach an amicable settlement and ask the court to settle property division matters, family law judges base their decisions on the principle of equitable distribution. This means marital assets must be divided fairly but not necessarily equally. Factors that judges consider when determining equitable distribution include the incomes earned by both spouses, the length of the marriage and the reason for the divorce. The goal of equitable distribution is a fair outcome, which means spouses who were unfaithful or committed acts of domestic violence might receive less property.
Property that is divided in a Tennessee divorce
Many people believe that all of the assets owned by spouses are subject to equitable distribution in Tennessee divorces, but this is not the case. Only assets acquired during the marriage are considered part of the marital estate and are divided. Assets that the spouses owned before getting married and gifts and inheritances they received during the marriage are not divided because they are separate property. However, separate property can become comingled with the marital estate. This could happen if an inheritance is deposited in a joint bank account or funds from a joint account are used to maintain or improve a home that one of the spouses owned before marrying.
Working spouses and homemakers
Negotiations over property division often become heated when one spouse worked and the other stayed at home. When judges are called on to settle these matters, they pay close attention to the homemaker’s reasons for not working. Spouses who sacrificed their careers to raise a family will usually be awarded more property than spouses who simply chose not to get a job.
Equitable distribution is a nebulous concept, and what may appear fair to one divorcing spouse could seem grossly unfair to the other. Leaving property division up to a judge is also expensive and involves airing grievances in public, which is why it is best to settle these matters at the negotiating table. When discussions become contentious and the prospects of reaching an agreement are slim, couples could explore alternatives to court like collaborative divorce or mediation.