Property Division

Knoxville Property Division and Divorce Lawyers

What “equitable distribution” really means – and how we can help you keep what’s yours

When two people get married, they generally go into it with a “what’s mine is yours, and what’s yours is mine” type of mentality. Which is great, if you never get divorced. But if both decide it’s time to pack it in, that “what’s mine is yours” thing might not sound so romantic anymore.

In Tennessee, when you get divorced, your marital property (that’s all the assets and property and stuff the two of you collected throughout your marriage) is subject to equitable distribution, which means that the court decides who gets what and how much, based on its concept of fairness. Of course the court favors a compromise, but its decision of what’s fair might not align with yours. And that can be a problem.

LaFevor & Slaughter has a lot of experience helping folks keep what they worked so hard to get, and finding a fair compromise when things get a little hairy. The more assets, or “stuff,” you have – money, retirement accounts, cars, art, or even livestock – the more you need to rely on your family law attorney’s skills. You can rest easy knowing we’ll fight to help you keep the things you hold dear, as well as all of the marital assets you’re entitled to receive. We’ll do the tough negotiations for you, so you can focus on your day-to-day life and leave everything about the divorce up to us.

What’s equitable distribution of property? Does that mean a 50/50 split?

Many people get the terms “equitable” and “equal” confused. But they’re not the same. Equal would mean a 50/50 split – right down the middle. Tennessee divorce laws call for an equitable distribution, which means a fair but not necessarily equal split. If you and your spouse don’t have a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement in place, you’re gonna have to try to come to an agreement on property distribution if you don’t want the court to make the decision for you.

Our Knoxville divorce attorneys can help you negotiate the terms of your property division agreement and, if necessary, we’ll go to court to fight for what’s yours.

How does Tennessee handle property division in a divorce?

The court has a specific process when determining property division to ensure everything’s accounted for. Your and your spouse’s assets and property go through four stages during this process:

  • Identification — The assets owed by one or both spouses must be located. This sometimes requires a bit of detective work, especially if your spouse is trying to pull a fast one by hiding some money in a sock drawer somewhere so that he or she can keep it. Judges don’t like that much, by the way, which is why we go looking for it right away.
  • Categorization — Each asset must be listed as separate or marital property, depending on when and how it was acquired. Generally, property obtained before the marriage or through gift or inheritance during the marriage is separate property. Marital property is any property acquired by either spouse during the marriage, including retirement benefits, even if they will vest after the termination of the marriage.
  • Valuation — The marital assets must be appraised and assigned a fair market value. For some items, like cars, this is a more straightforward process. For other items, like real estate that you purchased in an area that might be worth more money later than it is now, the process can be more complicated.
  • Distribution — The marital assets must be awarded to one spouse or the other. Non-liquid assets (AKA, things that would lose a lot of value if you tried to sell them right away) and businesses pose special challenges, especially if giving such an asset to one spouse cannot be offset with awards of remaining property to the other spouse.

We’re telling you about all this legal stuff because, well, our website company says we should. As Patrick always says, “He is married, so he is used to women telling him what to do.” But all we really need you to know is that this ain’t our first rodeo. We’ve helped people with second mortgages on their house, and we’ve worked with clients who own their own business and have high-end stock portfolios; in the end, the process is basically the same no matter what you have, though more assets usually means more steps along the way. At LaFevor & Slaughter, our Knoxville property division lawyers know what they’re looking for, and they know what to do to make sure you can keep what’s yours.

What’s considered marital property here in TN?

Basically, marital property is any property or assets you and your spouse acquired during the course of your marriage. It doesn’t matter who bought it, just that you got it while you were married. This is what our state laws say regarding marital property:

  • If you had separate property, but both of you substantially contributed to it during the marriage, the court will likely consider it marital property.
  • If you or your spouse were awarded damages in a lawsuit during the marriage, the court may look at those funds as marital property.
  • Things like pensions, stock options, and retirement benefits may also be considered marital property.

Once the court designates assets as marital property, they’re all subject to division. It doesn’t matter is one of your names is on everything (like the mortgage or the deed) and the other’s isn’t; the court can still treat it like marital property regardless of whose name is on the paperwork. This is why determining the difference between “what’s mine is yours and what’s yours is mine” is so crucial, right? We’ll work to make sure to get an accurate division of marital and separate property.

So, what’s separate property?

In a nutshell, everything and anything you had before you got hitched. Just like marital property, of course, there are more details and specifics. Separate property includes:

  • Certain damages from personal injury compensation cases
  • Income or appreciation from property owned by a spouse before marriage
  • Property and assets owned by one spouse before the marriage
  • Property or assets acquired by a spouse after a judge’s order of property division
  • Property or assets acquired by one spouse as a gift or inheritance
  • Property or funds in exchange for property a spouse owned before the marriage

Who gets the house in a Knoxville divorce?

Your house is likely one of the biggest, if not THE biggest asset in your marriage. And even if it’s not, it probably has a ton of emotional value. It’s where you raised your kids, picnicked in the backyard, and made memories. You want to hold onto it, for your sake and the sake of your kids, and we get it. Whether or not you get the family home in your divorce depends on – you guessed it, – if it’s marital or separate property.

The court uses the same factors it does with all your other assets when considering who gets the family home. Typically, though, your home is considered marital property. If you two can’t come to an agreement on keeping or sharing the house, the court might order you to buy out your spouse’s half of the house, or sell the house and split the proceeds.

That’s why we want you to come talk to us when it comes time to get divorced. Our attorneys can help you come up with some pretty creative ways of dealing with the house.

How do we divide our business in a divorce?

When you and your spouse own a business together, things can get complicated during asset division. But don’t worry – you don’t have to be an accounting whiz to figure it out. Our Knoxville attorneys get to work assessing the true value of the business and whether or not it’s separate or marital property. That last bit is important. Even if one of you came into the marriage with the business as separate property, if your spouse contributed to the growth of the business, the court may look at it as marital property. Like we said, things can get complicated. We’ll help.

Other things we’ve written about property division, in case you’re interested:

Dependable and dedicated property distribution attorneys in Knoxville

At LaFevor & Slaughter, our divorce attorneys are here to guide you through the process with as much ease and efficiency as possible. We put our experience to work for you, so you can focus less on the unpleasant details of divorce and more on moving on to the next chapter of your life. To discuss your rights in Tennessee’s equitable distribution process, call us at (865) 637-6258 or fill out our contact form today.