Divorce can be an incredibly difficult and emotional time. When a marriage ends, both spouses naturally want to protect their assets. This often leads to questions about what can legally be done with marital property before or during divorce.
In Tennessee, all property acquired during the marriage is considered marital property, subject to equitable distribution in divorce. This means that any assets purchased or accumulated while married are jointly owned in most cases, even if only one spouse’s name is on the title. As such, there are restrictions around removing marital property before divorce in Tennessee.
Understanding Marital Property in Divorce
In divorce proceedings, the term “marital property” refers to all the assets that a couple acquires during the marriage. It includes everything from the marital home to bank accounts, cars, and personal property.
The division of marital property often becomes a central issue in many divorce cases, significantly where one spouse may attempt to remove marital property before filing for divorce.
Removing marital property before divorce can be a complex process and can negatively impact the property division process in your divorce. It’s important for spouses to understand their rights and obligations regarding property division and how their actions may affect their interests in the divorce proceedings.
What Property is Considered “Marital” in Tennessee?
Tennessee is an equitable distribution state. This means that marital property is divided fairly between the spouses during divorce. Marital property generally includes:
- The marital home and other real estate purchased during the marriage
- Bank accounts opened during the marriage
- Retirement and investment accounts accumulated during marriage
- Businesses started or acquired during the marriage
- Vehicles and other personal property bought during the marriage
- Marital debt
Property brought into the marriage by one spouse or acquired by gift or inheritance during the marriage is considered separate property. Separate property is not subject to equitable distribution.
The court may consider several factors when determining if an asset qualifies as marital property, such as how it is titled and when it was acquired. Consulting with a divorce attorney can clarify what will be deemed marital property in your unique situation.
Can You Remove Marital Property Before Filing for Divorce?
In short – no. You cannot legally deplete marital assets or remove marital property before divorce to keep it from your spouse.
Tennessee law prohibits the dissipation of marital assets during divorce proceedings. If one spouse suspects the other is attempting to sell, spend, or transfer marital property to retain more in the divorce, they can request the court to step in.
Some examples of dissipation include:
- Selling marital assets and keeping the money separate
- Transferring ownership of property to another person to avoid splitting it
- Making unusually large withdrawals from bank accounts
- Running up joint credit card debt
If dissipation is proven, the spouse who unfairly depleted assets may be ordered to reimburse the marital estate. The court can also factor the dissipation into the overall property division.
Why You Should Not Remove Marital Assets Before Divorce
Removing marital property before a divorce is not only unethical, but it can also have significant legal consequences in Tennessee. Here’s why you should refrain from dissipating assets:
- It’s illegal: Dissipating marital assets without your spouse’s consent is prohibited under Tennessee law. The court may assign the dissipated property back to the marital estate.
- You could face penalties: If you are found concealing assets, the judge could award a greater share of the marital property to your spouse as a penalty.
- It can prolong your divorce: Attempting to hide assets will anger your spouse and drag out the proceedings as disputed assets must be located.
- You still have to split the asset value: Even if you manage to take an asset, its value must still be equitably divided at the time of separation.
- It jeopardizes spousal and child support: Dissipating funds you need to pay alimony or child support can get you in legal trouble.
- Your spouse can fight it: If your spouse contests the removal of property, you will end up in a prolonged court battle (contested divorce).
Clearly, removing marital property without consent can spell disaster in your Tennessee divorce. Not only is it morally questionable, but it can also backfire spectacularly from a legal perspective.
How to Protect Your Share of Marital Property
While you cannot legally remove marital property before divorce, there are lawful steps you can take to protect your rights and share of assets:
- Consult with a divorce attorney – An attorney can advise you on preserving marital assets during separation and ensure you receive a fair divorce settlement.
- Document all marital property – Make copies of bank statements, titles, deeds, and other ownership records. This documentation will be useful in proving the existence of marital assets.
- Open separate bank accounts – Opening individual bank accounts after separation can help you manage your own finances. Be sure only to deposit non-marital assets and earnings.
- Avoid transferring ownership – Don’t sign over cars, homes, or other major marital property before the divorce is finalized unless you have a formal agreement in place.
- Change account passwords – Change online account passwords to prevent improper access to marital funds and assets. Don’t make large withdrawals without discussion.
- Consider a restraining order – If you have concerns over your spouse harming you or selling marital assets, a restraining order can help restrict their actions.
Being proactive with an attorney’s guidance can help you receive a fair marital property division and protect your rights in a Tennessee divorce.
How Marital Property is Divided in Tennessee
Tennessee is an equitable distribution state, meaning that marital property will be divided fairly but not necessarily equally during divorce. The court will distribute assets and debts between spouses in a way that it deems just after considering these factors:
- The contribution of each spouse to the marriage
- The economic circumstances of each spouse
- The duration of the marriage
- Any interruption in a spouse’s career to family responsibilities
- The contribution of each spouse to the other spouse’s education or career
- How each spouse contributed to acquiring and improving marital assets
- The income and earning potential of each spouse
- The desirability of retaining the marital home for minor children
- Whether a spouse dissipated marital assets
- Any other factor necessary for an equitable distribution
So even if one spouse wrongfully disposes of marital property, the court has wide discretion to make up for this during the final property award. There are legal processes to recover assets that have been hidden or sold off during a divorce.
Why Work With a Divorce Lawyer?
Divorcing spouses must make many challenging decisions regarding property division. An experienced Tennessee divorce attorney can help in the following ways:
- Advise you on what assets are deemed marital property subject to equitable distribution
- Provide strategies to preserve marital assets during separation
- Detect dissipation of marital property by your spouse
- Negotiate a property settlement agreement on your behalf
- Uncover all marital assets and ensure proper valuation
- Help gain access to tax returns, bank statements, and other documentation to find hidden assets
- Argue against an unfair division of assets in court if needed
Having a knowledgeable lawyer guide you through property division can give you peace of mind that your rights are protected. It is wise to at least schedule an initial consultation before making any decisions regarding marital property.
Consulting With a Divorce Lawyer: Next Steps
Removing marital property before a divorce can have serious legal consequences. Attempting to hide or deplete assets unfairly will likely backfire in court. Working collaboratively with your spouse and attorneys to reach an equitable agreement on dividing marital assets is key.
To discuss your specific situation regarding marital property division in a Tennessee divorce, contact a Tennessee divorce lawyer today. With an attorney’s help, you can gain clarity on your rights, protect your assets, and obtain a favorable settlement.
Frequently Asked Questions:
Should I leave the marital home if I am considering a divorce?
The decision of whether to leave the marital home when considering a divorce is a personal one. Seeking advice from a family law attorney who can offer guidance tailored to your individual circumstances is advisable.
Can my spouse deplete our marital assets during the divorce process?
Depletion of marital assets during a divorce can have serious consequences. If you suspect that your spouse is attempting to deplete marital assets, it is important to consult with a family law attorney who can guide you on how to protect your interests and ensure a fair division of property.