How does Tennessee address equitable division?

Divorce is tough, and no one gets divorced because they think the process might be fun. You get divorced because you recognize something in your life is wrong or isn’t working and needs to be fixed. you get divorced because you hope your divorce will lead to a better future.

Part of that future depends on getting a fair shake during property division. You contributed to the marriage, and your contributions matter. As we saw in a previous post, reaching a fair outcome starts with properly defining the marital estate. But there’s more to the process than simply identifying all your marital property.

Accounting for separate assets

Only marital assets are subject to property division. Separate assets are immune. Accordingly, it’s important for you to identify your separate assets. Tennessee law says these assets may include:

  • Property acquired by either party ahead of the marriage
  • The income from or increase of a separate asset to which the spouse did not contribute
  • Gifts and inheritance
  • Financial awards for pain and suffering, future medical expenses, future lost wages and victim of crime compensation
  • Property acquired by either spouse after an order of separation for which the court has already handled property division

However, as we addressed in our earlier post, the law also allows for spouses to “invade” these assets in certain cases. For example, if the court finds that one spouse supported the other spouse’s business by taking care of the home or managing family finances, it may demand part of that business be considered marital property.

As a result, the divide between marital and separate assets can get tricky at times. What was the value of a business prior to the marriage? What was the value of that business at the time of divorce? How much did both parties contribute to the business, directly or indirectly? These are questions the court needs to address and answer to divide the marital estate.

Equitable doesn’t mean equal

Identifying marital and separate assets is the first step. Identifying their values is generally the second step. From there, however, the process isn’t quite so simple as saying that each party gets half of the marital estate. The law identifies 11 factors that influence property division, including:

  • The length of the marriage
  • The ages, needs, education and earning power of each party
  • Either party’s contribution to the other’s education or increase in earning power
  • The values of each party’s separate assets
  • The tax consequences and expenses attached to the sales of any assets

The result is that property division is rarely simple, especially if your marriage involves many years of commingled and complex assets.

Property division is not simply a matter of connecting the dots

There are many ways to handle property division in Middle Tennessee. Some are better for you than others. Even among the different settlement options the court might consider “equitable,” some will position you for a better future than others.

Good property division requires getting a full and clear view of the whole picture. Then you want a strategy that drills down into the details and considers both what you want most and what the courts are likely to demand.