Is Wisconsin a Joint Property State?
Yes, Wisconsin is one of nine states that are joint property states, more commonly known as community property states. This means all income received, all property acquired, and all debts incurred by either spouse during the marriage are subject to be shared equally (50/50) by both spouses during divorce regardless of who contributed to what the most.
How is Property Division Determined?
The division of property is one of the most complex aspects of a divorce. In fact, it's often fears of unfair property division alone that drive people to hire an attorney in the first place.
This isn't helped by the fact that state-by-state, laws surrounding property division are drastically different from one another.
The easiest explanation of joint property is that the law considers all marital property as owned equally. So, when it comes time to split everything up, it's all split exactly down the middle.
The alternative is what's known as an equitable distribution state. In these states, the court takes into account a variety of factors and then splits up the property in a way that seems “fair” to both parties. Unlike joint property, this doesn't mean splitting it down the middle.
For many, knowing the distinction doesn't really help you understand how things will shake out in a divorce.
What's Included in the Judgment
When in a joint property state, what exactly is it that's being divided up? As anyone in a relationship knows, the longer you're in it the more stuff that piles up – cars, a house, bank accounts, clothes, TV's and the list goes on.
Most of these things will be considered marital property. One important thing to understand is that marital property is anything bought during the marriage by either spouse. That's regardless of whose name is specifically on the lease or title, or whose credit card the purchase was attached to.
A good rule of thumb is to assume something is marital property, as what's considered separate property is pretty limited. Separate property refers mostly to items that were owned and “brought into” the marriage or gifts from inheritance or third parties.
So any family heirlooms you received from your parents or birthday gifts you've received over the years remain yours. But going back to the car example, if you bought your car in 2004 then got married into 2005 as long as you didn't change the paperwork, the car would be considered legally your property.
Property isn't just physical items though, it also pertains to bank accounts, stocks, 401Ks, and debts.
Is your head beginning to spin? We don't blame you. That's why having an experienced attorney is invaluable during this part of the process.
All of the property that the couple owns will be valued at the time of the divorce and this will be the basis for the 50/50 split. This is why many spouses resort to dirty tactics to hide additional money or property so that they can reclaim it after the judgement is final.
How Is Property Split 50/50?
It might be easy to wrap your head around how a bank account or stocks could be split down the middle. But what about cars? Homes? Appliances?
Because Wisconsin is a joint property state, everything has to be split down the middle if it's marital property.
Instead of pulling out the chainsaw, everything is valued at the time of divorce and those values are used to figure out the split. So if you are awarded the home, for example, you would either buy out the other spouse, or give them assets equal to the same amount.
Cars, similarly would be valued at their blue book value. So if you got the nicer of your two cars, you'd have to buy out the value for the other half.
This is why property division can be a delicate balancing act, and having a good appraiser and attorney on your side is invaluable, especially in joint property states where every little bit helps.
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