Like many states throughout the U.S., Minnesota divides property in a divorce settlement according to a system of equitable distribution, meaning the marital estate isn’t split exactly equally between each party, but instead in a way that would be fair and logical. Divorce is an emotionally wearing time for all involved parties. A time may come when spouses don’t agree with what was decided upon by the court. A situation such as this can typically be resolved by appealing the property division outcome; however, the process can be time-consuming and may not achieve the desired outcome.
Property Division in Minnesota
Couples that choose to divorce in Minnesota are required to get assistance from a judge to make an equitable division of financial assets and liabilities unless capable of reaching an out-of-court settlement. Since Minnesota is a no-fault divorce state, it doesn’t matter what partner is responsible for the marriage failing – meaning that information isn’t translated into the division of property. When dividing property in a divorce, Minnesota courts consider several factors to help reach a decision.
- Marriage Length
- Prior Marriage History
- Health Levels
- Amount and Sources of Income
- Vocational Skills
- Opportunity for Future Acquisition of Capital Assets
- Contribution of Spouse to Acquisition
- Depreciation or Appreciation in the Amount or Value of Marital Property
- Contribution of Spouse as a Homemaker
Many couples are capable of reaching an agreement via out-of-court settlement, which is beneficial to all involved since each spouse can take some control of the outcome of their case. If a divorce is taken to court, a trial will occur, and a judge will oversee final decisions.
Types of Property
The division of property can often be confusing as the Minnesota court system has appointed categories for various types of property being divided in a divorce.
- Real: connected to land and consists of homes, cabins, commercial property, acreage,
- Personal: consists of bank accounts, clothing, automobiles, retirement interests, jewelry, furniture, and more.
- Marital: everything a couple has acquired while they were married.
- Nonmarital: property that spouses acquire separately, usually before marriage.
A presumption is applied in Minnesota that property acquired by either spouse during the marriage is determined as marital property. If a spouse feels this is incorrect, that spouse must prove to the judge that the property is nonmarital by providing evidence and tracing, if necessary.
Gifts and Debt
Any gifts, inheritances, and property that a spouse had before marriage are all eligible to be traced by the court. Spouses often receive monetary gifts or inheritances from family members. If the spouse chooses to apply any gifts or inheritance towards marital property (i.e. pay down the marital home’s mortgage, or put the funds into a marital bank account), the spouse is creating difficulties to prove that the monetary gift should remain separate from the marital property. Tracing of these funds may still be possible, but the other spouse may have an argument that the funds no longer maintain their non-marital character because they were combined (or “commingled”) with marital funds.
Minnesota courts are required to divide marital debts along with assets and have much flexibility in doing so. Debts accrued during the marriage are marital debts, even if the debt is only in one party’s name. A judge has wide discretion to equitably assign the debt between the parties.
Property Value Determination
If parties are looking for a way to ease the decision-making process or provide the judge with information that may not otherwise be accessible, a spouse can hire an expert witness to give property valuation testimony.
Testimony from an expert witness can be very helpful as it can provide the judge with financial information regarding retirement accounts, property value, non-marital tracing, household goods and furnishings, and much more.
Appealing a Property Division Settlement
Either spouse involved in a divorce can appeal the court’s division of property, but when reviewing an appeal, there are specific standards that the appellate court will use when evaluating the trial court’s decision. If appealing a property division order is sought, the party in question may challenge the trial court judge’s application of the law.
More times than not, it’s more helpful for each spouse to get a fair share of the marital assets from the start. Each spouse should be aware of existing assets and debts; thus clear communication with divorce attorneys will ensure each party is appropriately informed. If couples are looking for a way to be proactive just in case a divorce may occur in the future, it’s often beneficial to create a prenuptial agreement, so that at least some portion of the division of property is already determined and settled upon.
Divorce is a troublesome time for all parties involved, and being knowledgeable about assets and existing money is beneficial should spouses decide to appeal a property division outcome. Researching the Minnesota law regarding property division and the appeal process is helpful so parties can be aware of their rights after a trial court’s final decision. Hiring a divorce attorney early in the process will help each spouse communicate clearly and can help ensure that all individual necessities and desires are translated correctly.