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Divorce and marital property vs. separate property

The decision to divorce can be a scary one. The divorce process is often complex and can become contentious when matters related to children, personal belongings and financial assets are being decided. Many individuals who begin the divorce process, do so with trepidation and brace themselves for the impending financial windfall they expect divorce will bring.

For many divorcing men and women, however, divorce not only brings personal freedom but also financial freedom. While a soon-to-be ex-spouse may insist his or her 401(k) retirement account is off-limits, in actuality retirement accounts and investment accounts are often considered marital property and therefore fair game and subject to state divorce laws.

Monies held in retirement accounts are just one example of assets that most divorcing individuals fail to realize are in fact marital property. In fact, there are only a handful of assets and special circumstances that warrant the distinction of being considered separate property. Among these are monies received via an inheritance, monies awarded through a personal injury settlement and property owned prior to marriage.

Aside from the above-mentioned things, nearly everything else acquired throughout the course of a marriage is considered marital property and therefore must be split during a divorce. It makes sense, therefore, that the divorce process would be complex and lengthy when a couple who was married for 20 years and amassed considerable wealth, decides to divorce.

When going through the divorce process, individuals would be wise to attempt to itemize lists of personal belongings and assets. Additionally, it's critical to retain an attorney who has experience handling divorce cases in which spouses may have tried to hide assets, particularly when a couple has a lot of assets and diversified wealth.

Source: Forbes, "Divorcing Women: The Truth About Your Husband's 401(k) And Other Assets," Jeff Landers, Aug. 8, 2013

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