Property Division

When short marriages end, property division is often straightforward: Each person takes the “stuff” she and he brought into the marriage. Anything purchased or given to the couple is divided if the parties cannot agree on who gets what.

Those cases are usually easy. (In fact, for these types of cases without children, we can offer resources at reduced cost.) But for longer marriages, greater assets, or complex ownership arrangements, you need a capable, experienced attorney such as Dan Pingelton.

Here’s an example of a case Dan Pingelton handled from several years ago. Wife and Husband married in 2005. Husband quit his job to start a small business maintenance company. Over the next couple years, it grew and he hired more help. Wife then quit her job to be the full-time bookkeeper for the company. Both Wife and Husband drew a modest salary from the company. Husband’s parents (who never liked wife) loaned the company some money so that it could expand even further. In doing so, they had Husband hire their attorney to transfer company assets into their family corporation, to protect it “should something unfortunate happen.” The corporation then began making even more money, and acquiring more property. Husband filed for divorce in 2011, and a bevy of corporate attorneys showed up in court to argue that most of the company was a corporate asset, owned by the stockholders and not Wife. Dan Pingelton was honored to represent the Wife in this highly contested, complex case. He successfully argued to the court that Missouri’s corporate law does not trump marital law, and that the substance and not the form of the transactions should determine the asset division. Mr. Pingelton worked with an expert in business valuation that resulted in Wife obtaining a full one-half of the corporate value – about $2 million in cash.

Here’s a more common example of an issue that Pingelton Law Firm handles for many clients: Wife owns a house that she bought in 2007 with a down payment of $10,000 from her parents. She makes mortgage payments of $750 monthly from her income. She and Husband marry in 2008 and she continues to make the mortgage payments. In 2010, Wife quits work for a year to raise the couple’s first child. Husband makes the mortgage payments from his income. In 2013, Wife returns to work and Husband keeps making the mortgage payments. In 2014 Husband is laid off and Wife starts making the mortgage payments. Sadly, in 2016 the couple divorces. The house remains solely in Wife’s name. Is Husband entitled to any interest in the house? Yes, but not for the reasons many people assume. How much is he entitled to? That depends. Most courts will examine the total property holdings to fashion the most equitable division, leaving certain assets intact if possible. Next, a court will determine if the total asset division should be equal. Many property divisions are close to equal. But some are not, for various reasons.

One more example, from the above scenario. Assume that in 2016, trying to save their marriage, Wife transfers ownership of the house to both herself and her husband, jointly. They divorce anyway. How much is husband entitled to now? Under this scenario, especially considering the $10,000 from Wife’s parents prior to the marriage, and assuming a modest increase in equity, not as much as Wife might worry about (although the legal labels applied to the properly analysis will change). And: It still depends on other factors.

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