The issue of dividing property between spouses is one of the most contentious matters in a divorce case. In many cases, the parties accumulated a significant amount of wealth during the course of their marriage.
It is important for men considering or currently going through a divorce to become familiar with Michigan family law and its system of property division.
Michigan Law on Property Division
Throughout the United States, jurisdictions adhere to either the “community property” or “equitable distribution” system of dividing marital assets upon divorce.
Michigan family law follows principles of equitable distribution. Accordingly, Michigan courts will equitably distribute all assets that qualify as “marital property.”
Unlike community property states, marital property is not necessarily distributed equally between the parties in a divorce case. Instead, the courts will consider several factors on a case-by-case basis to determine a distribution that is “fair” or “equitable” under the circumstances.
For example, if one spouse spent more of their money on marital expenses, a court in rare cases could award that party a 55-60% share of marital property upon divorce, depending on the extent to which they were responsible for covering marital expenses.
An aspect of Michigan's equitable distribution law involves a distinction between marital property and “separate property.” As a result of Michigan’s dual classification system of equitable distribution, the parties must take care to accurately value their marital and separate property.
Determining Marital Property Versus Separate Property
All property that was acquired during the parties’ marriage is considered to be divisible marital property upon divorce. Things like real estate, cars, bank accounts, investments, and business interests may be classified as marital property subject to equitable distribution. In contrast, property that a party acquired before marriage or through inheritance is considered to be their separate property that is normally not divisible at divorce.
When determining whether something is marital property, the date of its purchase or acquisition is a critical fact to establish. For example, if a party wanted to claim a car as their separate property they would want to provide proof of the date they bought the vehicle along with proof of the date of their marriage. As long as the date they purchased and paid off the car was before the date of their marriage, and no significant improvements were made or paid for during the marriage, the car qualifies as that party’s separate property.
Valuing Marital Property
The value of marital property is a crucial issue when performing an equitable distribution of the parties’ assets. In some cases, the parties will have competing claims regarding the value of a particular asset.
For example, if part or all of a business qualifies as divisible marital property, the court is likely to award the entire business to one spouse and order them to buy out the other spouse’s interest. As a result, the spouse who will keep and operate the business will want to argue for a lower business value so they can save money buying out their spouse’s interest. Conversely, the spouse who will sell their interest in the business will want to prove a higher valuation for the business to maximize their take.
The value of assets, such as business interests, investments, stocks, and bonds, can be proven based on different financial or accounting principles.
In some cases, a party can prove the value of property by submitting evidence of what people would pay to purchase the property. This is known as the “fair market value” of an asset. However, sometimes assets are not marketable. For such assets, evidence of what it would cost someone to replace the asset—also known as “replacement value”—may be used to prove its value.
The value of certain assets is not static. Most people understand that the price of a gallon of gas in 2000 is not the same as it would be in 2020. As a result, a key issue in determining an asset’s value is figuring out what date to apply the valuation analysis.
In Michigan, the following dates are used to value marital property:
- Filing date of the divorce: Some assets may be valued as of the date the divorce complaint was filed. For example, the value or balance of a bank account on the date a divorce was filed may be used.
- Date of appraisal: Some assets require a third party to determine its value, such as an appraiser. For example, courts have accepted the value of a home on the date it was appraised.
- From the filing date to trial: When an asset’s value fluctuates over time, a party can take the average of its values between the date the divorce was filed and the trial date. For instance, this method may be appropriate to value pensions and retirement accounts.
- Conclusion of trial: The value of an asset on the last day of trial may be considered in performing an equitable distribution of marital property, even though the court could have used an earlier date.
You Can Depend on the American Divorce Association for Men (ADAM)
For legal counsel and representation you can rely on, turn to the American Divorce Association for Men. At ADAM, our team of attorneys is committed to protecting and preserving the rights of husbands and fathers throughout Michigan in family law issues such as the equitable distribution of marital property upon divorce.
To schedule a free phone consultation about your case, please call ADAM at (248) 327-0050 or complete our online request form today.