What is marital property and how much is it worth?

by | Feb 10, 2022 | Family Law |

This two-part question presents a critical issue in many Wisconsin divorces: Just what does the law consider marital property and what is that property’s value? The answer in your specific circumstances will play a prominent role in shaping your post-divorce financial future.

Community property in Wisconsin

Under Wisconsin’s community property laws, property obtained during the marriage is presumed to be marital property and subject to a 50-50 split upon divorce. Such property includes:

  • The family home
  • Vehicles
  • Bank accounts
  • Stocks and other investments
  • Retirement assets (pensions, 401(k)s and IRAs)
  • Furniture, jewelry and other personal possessions

This presumption does not always play out to a perfectly equal split. For instance, if one spouse wasted a lot of money during the marriage or spent money on an extra-marital affair, a court may find it appropriate that the other spouse obtains more than an equal split of certain property. Prenuptial and post-nuptial agreements can also affect the distribution of assets. Also, certain gifts and inheritances may not qualify as marital property, even if they were obtained during the marriage.

Is separate property always separate?

Property obtained prior to marriage is separate and not subject to division, but there are situations in which assets mingle and determining the legal ownership becomes more complex.

For example, one spouse may have established a business before getting married, and the value of that business rose significantly during the course of the marriage. The other spouse is not entitled to a full half of the value of the business, because the business was created prior to the marriage. That spouse is, however, likely entitled to half of the value of the amount the business appreciated during the marriage. Valuing such assets is a complex undertaking that may require input from experts in economics, accounting and other fields.

What is the property worth?

Some assets are simpler to value than others. A real estate appraisal can determine a fair value for a house. Assets like stocks, bonds and cryptocurrency have easily researchable values. But what about an asset like a business or professional practice? Many factors affect this valuation, including profitability, customer lists and goodwill in the community. When a divorce involves the division of such high-asset items, much is at stake. A single missed detail could end up costing you dearly. A thorough, detail-oriented approach, however, can help ensure that you obtain your fair share and that your financial future remains intact.