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During divorce, how do Alabama courts divide property?

| May 19, 2020 | Family Law |

Despite a declining divorce rate in the U.S., the number of Americans that separate each year remains significant. The American Psychological Association reports that somewhere between 40% and 50% of U.S. couples who marry ultimately go their separate ways.

Disagreements over finances are among the most common sources of marital problems in the first place. When faced with divorce, tensions over deciding who gets what can become overwhelming. Alabama couples considering separation should know that, if they cannot come to an agreement about how to distribute assets between them, the court will do so for them.

Marital property vs. separate property

In Alabama, most types of assets that either partner acquires between the date of marriage and the date of filing for separation becomes shared marital property — regardless of whose name is on a title, deed or account. During a divorce, marital assets are usually subject to equitable division by the court. In addition to real property, such as vehicles, houses and personal belongings, marital assets may include retirement accounts, pensions, investments, tax credits and the value of life insurance policies.

Exceptions include inheritances or personal gifts made to only one spouse unless these assets become commingled with shared marital property. Additionally, property that either partner acquired before the date of marriage remains separate unless mixed in with the marital estate.

Equitable distribution

As with most other U.S. states, Alabama courts follow a premise of equitable distribution when dividing marital property during a divorce. This means that, insofar as possible, the court tries to make a decision that is fair to both parties and ensures ongoing support for any children.

However, in many cases, “equitable” does not necessarily mean “equal.” Rather than splitting shared property 50/50, the court may decide to award a larger portion of assets to one or the other spouse. When making this decision, a judge may consider a wide range of factors, including the length of the marriage, the age, income and employability of each partner, the standard of living the couple established during the marriage and which partner will become the primary caregiver for children.