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Marital Property Gets Distributed “Equitably,” Which May or May Not Mean Equally

By: Susan E. Block and Alan E. Freed

Even though the roles of working parents have changed over time, so that frequently both parents are working outside the home and earning substantial incomes, many families continue to have one parent earning an income and the other staying home with the children. Many divorcing couples have questions about whether the wage-earning parent will have the right to be awarded more of the family’s assets.

Missouri law states that, absent a valid prenuptial agreement, income and property accumulated exclusively during the marriage are considered marital property to be equitably distributed between the spouses as part of a dissolution of marriage–a divorce. This law applies regardless of the gender of the wage-earning and stay-at-home spouse, as well as in same-sex marriages.

In other words, when it comes to dividing property as part of a divorce, the law considers all contributions to the well-being of the family to have value, whether those contributions came in the form of a salary or keeping the household running and looking after the children. That means that marital property is usually divided equally between the spouses.

Sometimes, however, one of the spouses has engaged in conduct that has had such a negative impact on the family that a court may decide an equal division is not an equitable, or fair, division. What kinds of conduct? Often, it’s behavior that deprived the family of financial resources, such as when one spouse is spending money on a boyfriend or girlfriend or has a serious drug, alcohol, or gambling addiction. Sometimes, it’s severe physical or mental abuse.

We can’t predict how a particular judge will view marital misconduct, as there are no clear guidelines in the law. It’s important for you to understand, however, that an equal division is not a guaranteed outcome, but also that behavior you find to be unforgivable may not appear as serious to a judge.

The family law attorneys at Paule, Camazine & Blumenthal can help you assess how to achieve the best property division outcome for your family.


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