Theories on Property Division

There are two different theories on how title to property may affect the division of the property at the time of divorce. The title theory looks at which spouse holds title to each asset. There are multiple forms of title. Sole title grants the unilateral power to control. Examples of assets that may be relevant in divorce that are solely titled include retirement accounts, individual bank accounts, and vehicles. The remaining forms of title often apply to real property. Tenancy in common is the co-possession of an entire asset where each party has a ½ interest. Joint tenancy with right of survivorship is also co-possession of an entire asset with the condition that the surviving party will receive sole possession upon death of the other party. Each party can potentially transfer their interest during their lifetime. Finally, tenancy by entireties is similar to joint tenancy with right of survivorship but can only exist between spouses and any transfer of the interest can only occur with consent of the other spouse. Most states prefer the title theory. Equitable distribution is the method for property division under this theory.

The other theory in property division is community property. Under this theory each spouse has a present, vested ½ interest in all property acquired during the marriage. This results in an equal distribution of the property and is the minority view. Regardless of the theory utilized, the process of dividing property involves three steps. First, all the assets must be identified and classified as either marital or separate. There is a presumption that if the asset was acquired during the marriage it is marital. Second, each marital asset should be valued. Finally, all assets should be distributed either equitably or equally, depending on the property division theory being utilized. Both Pennsylvania and New Jersey divide property by method of equitable distribution.

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