After months or perhaps years of arguing, it may seem that the difficult part of divorcing is deciding to split and breaking the news to your family. However, many couples find that making the decision is just the beginning, and dividing up marital assets is one of the hardest parts of divorce. Couples in Maryland, particularly if they have been married for many years, may be in for a surprise when it comes to how the courts view marital property.

Though you may have agreed to share everything when you got married, the courts classify property as either separate or marital, also sometimes referred to as community. Separate property is property that was never shared and clearly belongs to one person, such as gifts or inheritance, property you owned before marriage or items acquired after the separation or divorce. Marital, or community, property includes whatever was otherwise acquired or earned during the marriage, including real estate, savings and retirement accounts and income.

States vary on how they handle property division; seven states adopt a “community property” view so that all property and debts acquired during the marriage are jointly owned and should be divided 50/50. Most states fall into the “equitable distribution” category, and judges will divide property in a manner that is considered equitable to the judge. The divorcing couple may disagree, however. It is almost always in your best interest for you and your soon-to-be-ex to decide how to divide your assets rather than letting a judge decide. Unfortunately, if one side is being unreasonable, that may not be an option.

If you are undergoing a divorce and are concerned about asset division, an attorney with experience in family law issues may be able to guide you through the process. The many laws that govern divorce can be complicated, so having an advocate might help set your mind at ease.