If you are going through a divorce, unless you have children, your primary concern is likely how your property and assets will be divided. In Maryland, we are an equitable distribution state. This means that family law judges divide the marital estate fairly. Though, to be clear, that does not mean equally.
What is in the marital estate?
The marital estate contains all the marital property that is to be divided between the spouses in the divorce. It contains all of the assets that were acquired or serviced during the marriage. This can be anything, like cars, real estate, bank and investment accounts, along with retirement and pension accounts.
Though, there are some exceptions. If you receive a gift or inheritance singularly (not as a couple) that is separate property. Property brought into the marriage is separate as is property the spouses specifically excluded in writing, like in a prenuptial agreement. Property outside the marital estate is given to its respective owners.
How is it divided?
You and your soon-to-be ex-spouse can agree on how to split your property without involving the Maryland courts. This can be a preferable option because it allows the couples to decide their own fate and not leave it to the whims of a randomly assigned judge that has no stake in the final outcome. If the spouses cannot agree though, the judge will divide the marital estate fairly (or at least, what they believe is fair and reasonable).
What can negatively impact my share?
If your actions are the reasons for the marital dissolution, this could cause a reduction in the amount you receive as can dissipation or waste of marital property. The latter refers to the misuse of marital property for purposes unrelated to the marriage, especially during the time period immediately before the divorce filing or in the commission of the marriage ending acts (i.e., infidelity, etc.).
Other examples of dissipation can include spending on illegal drugs and excessive spending on legal drugs, alcohol and entertainment. Spending money on a third party, a new partner or excessive gifts to someone outside the marriage can also qualify, which also includes gambling losses. Finally, purposeful destruction of marital assets also qualifies.
Protecting your rights and property
First, if you enter a marriage with separate property and want to keep it separate, track it and maintain it separately. This includes gifts and inheritances. Do not co-mingle accounts or put your spouse on deeds. Second, track spending and any wasteful habits your spouse may have, including documenting why the marriage is ending.