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What is "marital property" in Missouri?

While the decision whether to divorce is a very personal and emotional one, once the divorce process has begun, most of the decision-making involves property. A major part of any divorce is the property division process, in which the parties must determine what is and what is not "marital property," and then decide on how to divide it fairly between them. In the United States, there are two forms of marital property, depending on where you live: common law property or community property. Most states, including Missouri, follow common law principles of "equitable division." What does this mean?

In community property states, almost all property obtained during the marriage is considered property of both spouses. In the event of a divorce, the community property must be divided fairly. The division isn't necessarily 50-50, but a fair distribution is the idea.

By contrast, in a common law state like Missouri, not all property obtained during the marriage necessarily belongs to both parties. For instance, if one spouse buys a car and registers it only in her name, that boat is technically her property and not marital property.

However, the principle of equitable division means that the parties must divide their property in a way that meets the court's predetermined guidelines of fairness. If the spouse bought the car with money from a joint account she kept with the other spouse, a court would most likely consider it unfair to let her keep the car without paying part of its value to the other spouse.

Property division can be very complex. It requires full disclosure of assets and much negotiation of how to divide them. It's important for those going through a divorce to get the help of a skilled attorney with whom they feel comfortable and confident.

Source: FindLaw.com, "Who Owns What in Marital Property?" Accessed on Dec. 22, 2015

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Joseph J. Porzenski
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