Divorcing couples in Arizona must reach an agreeable arrangement on how to divide their assets and debt. Otherwise, decisions on property division, also known as equitable distribution, will fall under the Superior Court.
Whatever assets the couple own and wherever they are located, the court will determine how they should be divided and enter final orders who gets what. This is an important step in the divorce proceedings because the law requires the division of community property in a fair (but not necessarily equal) way.
What is community property in Arizona?
In most cases, all property that spouses have accumulated during their marriage is thought of as community or marital property. This means that both husband and wife share in the acquired assets. It is strongly presumed under Arizona law that any property purchased or obtained by either spouse during a marriage is considered community property.
Community property covers buildings, land, money in all its varied forms (cash, investments, bank accounts, and so on) stock options, vehicles, jewelry, furniture, and the earnings of either spouse during the marriage. Pensions and retirement plans are community property.
Arizona is a community property state upholding the division of marital assets and obligations between divorcing spouses. Exempted from this principle are any property or assets acquired before the marriage, by a will, or those the couple agree is separate property. Also exempted are assets a spouse acquires by inheritance or gift during the marriage, including any increase in value in those assets, such as profits or interest.
Any property one spouse owned prior to marriage is that spouse’s separate property as long as they can support their claim with appropriate documents and financial records. A spouse claiming otherwise has to carry the burden of proof.
How are assets divided in a divorce in Arizona?
Arizona divides accumulated marital assets under community property law regardless of who purchased them or whose name they are registered to. Community property will generally be divided equitably between the spouses. Each individual spouse retains assets they have acquired before the marriage.
The property division process
The division of community property involves the following stages:
- Identifying whether the property is community or separate
Arizona courts only have jurisdiction over community property, not separate property. Each spouse will have to produce documents and financial records as evidence for separate property claims. There is a possibility that what was originally a separate property can afterwards become a community property during the marriage. A house owned by one spouse prior to marriage, for example, may become community property after the marriage if both spouses are later named on the deed as owners.
- Agreeing on a value for community (marital) property
Whether community or separate property, all accrued assets and debts must have a designated monetary value before property division can take place. Appraisals are commonly used to assign values for assets like houses, cars, or art collections.
Both spouses can do the valuing themselves or, in case of disagreement, the court can do it.
Retirement accounts can occasionally be a very difficult asset to value. A professional appraiser may have to be hired to determine the value of a retirement account and how much it has increased in value since the original marriage date.
- Deciding how to appropriately divide community property
Arizona courts have many ways of dividing property. In cases when the property is not entirely separate, an option is given by the court for one spouse to buy out the other spouse’s remaining share. Couples are often advised to sell their assets and split the proceeds. Properties like family homes can be jointly owned even after separation if children reside there or are visiting every year.
There are some exceptions. For instance, if an irresponsible spouse has wasted money on gambling or drugs, the court’s decision may be in favor of the other spouse. For property under huge debt, the court may be against the spouse who incurred the debt. In cases like these, the guidance of a skilled divorce attorney is valuable in resolving property division cases effectively and efficiently.
Who gets the house in an Arizona divorce?
The answer first depends on whether the house is community property. If it was purchased during the marriage, it is regarded as community property and qualified for division. However, if the property was owned by one spouse prior to the wedding and the couple just moved in, the ownership will be retained by that spouse.
The date of the marital home’s acquisition offers decisive information. A property is typically regarded as separate if it was purchased prior to the wedding or if it was acquired as an inheritance or a gift. In Arizona or other states that comply with either community or equitable division of property laws, the court cannot grant separate property to the other spouse. Divorcing couples more often than not retain their ownership of separate property.
Consult a lawyer for a better understanding of property division laws
Consult a local family law attorney to know more about marital property laws in Arizona. These attorneys can best clarify how Arizona law apply to your case.
Protecting your property and finances is a top concern during divorce. You will need an attorney who is experienced in setting up a legal plan of action for you.
Contact Goldman Law, LLC today to learn more about community property division in Arizona. Our skilled family law attorneys can help you decide the best
steps in dealing with your situation. Call us at (602) 698-5520 to schedule a personalized consultation.