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Washington D.C. Property Division
Property Distribution Laws in Washington D.C.
The District of Columbia is an equitable distribution jurisdiction. It uses the dual classification model, and the appreciation of separate property is separate. Equitable does not mean equal, or even half, but rather what the Superior Court considers fair.
If there is no valid property distribution agreement, each spouse retains his or her separate property, which are assets acquired before the marriage, or gifts or inheritance during the marriage.
The conduct of the spouses during the marriage is not a factor for consideration.
Factors in Equitable Distribution
All other property, regardless of how title is held, shall be divided equitably and reasonably, based on relevant factors that include:
Marital Property vs. Separate Property
The spouse who owns it retains separate property. Separate property includes assets owned before marriage if kept separate and not commingled or mixed with marital property, income and appreciation of separate property, and property inherited during the marriage.
Proving ownership of separate property In a divorce may require information such as the date of purchase or acquisition, an estimate of value, and account numbers and serial numbers.
Property includes assets and debts as well as retirement benefits, pensions, stock options, and insurance benefits.
Valuing and Dividing Property
Depending upon the asset and the agreement of the spouses, different methods of valuation are used to determine the value of a marital asset. When the spouses agree, courts generally accept what they say about the value of an asset. Absent agreement, experts may be retained by the parties or by the courts to determine the value of marital assets. Such experts may include accountants, real estate or business appraisers, or pension valuators. The use of experts adds to the cost of the divorce.
When dividing property in divorce, the first step is to determine what property is considered marital. Since District of Columbia is an equitable distribution state, all marital property is divided equitably unless agreed to otherwise by the divorcing spouses.
The Marital Home
In the District of Columbia, as in many jurisdictions, the equity in the marital home is often one of the biggest assets the spouses divide. The equity is the market value of the house, less any debts or liens against it. Equity is established by determining what the current market value of the home is at the time of separation. Once the spouses agree to a current market value, any debts associated with the property (mortgage, taxes, home equity loans, etc.) are deducted from the market value to arrive at the equity to be divided. Normally, making this calculation requires a paid real estate appraisal or a real estate agent can prepare a market analysis for free.
From there, couples choose one of three options to divide the equity:
Pensions and Retirement Accounts
In the District of Columbia, vested pensions are marital property. A pension vests when all the requirements to receive the pension have been met. Unvested pensions are also marital property. Until the pension has vested, the person under whom the pension is maintained has only an expectancy interest in the pension.
Several different methods of valuation are used in determining how much a marital asset is worth, depending upon the asset to be valued and the level of agreement between the parties. Courts generally accept the value when the spouses mutually agree on a value of a particular asset. Experts may be retained by the parties or by the courts to determine the value of marital assets if the parties cannot agree. Such experts may include accountants, real estate or business appraisers, or pension valuators. The use of experts adds to the cost of the divorce.
In the District of Columbia, the court may include the retirement benefits and plans earned by both spouses as marital assets available for division. Retirement benefits vary greatly but can generally be divided into two groups:
In the District of Columbia, if spouses share in each other's retirement or pension plan, a Qualified Domestic Relations Order must be completed. A QDRO is a written set of instructions that explains to a plan administrator that two parties are dividing pension benefits. The instructions set forth the terms and conditions of the distribution - how much of the benefits are to be paid to each party, when such benefits can be paid, and how such benefits should be paid.
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