Most couples have or accumulate assets of one kind or another during their marriage. When a marriage ends in divorce, the division of those assets can create significant conflict. Understanding the basics of WV marital property division laws—and working with an experienced divorce attorney—can help you protect your property interests.
How WV Marital Property Division Fits in Your Divorce
West Virginia divorce law establishes a process for terminating a marriage. Divorce is a legal case that must proceed through a WV family court. Although it’s ultimate purpose is to terminate the marriage, a divorce can also involve issues of property division, spousal support, child custody, and child support. The bulk of the WV property division laws are found in WV Code article 48-7. Protecting your property interests in a divorce requires having a basic understanding of property division laws and having a skilled family lawyer to enforce them.
What Is Considered Marital Property in WV?
The first question to ask yourself when considering WV marital property division is how the law defines “marital property.” Under WV Code § 48-1-233, “marital property” includes any property acquired during the marriage or that increased in value during the marriage. This is contrasted with “separate property,” which WV Code § 48-1-237 defines to mean any of the following types of property:
- Acquired before the marriage;
- Acquired during the marriage but with spousal agreement that it is separate property;
- Acquired during the marriage in exchange for separate property;
- Acquired as a gift or inheritance;
- Acquired after separation or divorce proceedings began; and
- Resulted from an increase in value of separate property due to inflation or market conditions not controlled by the parties.
All types of property are included, such as personal property (moveable things like furniture, cars, jewelry), real property (real estate and the buildings on it), or intangible property (like financial accounts, retirement accounts, or legal claims that have not been determined).
These definitions are important to understand before you tackle how West Virginia divides your property in a divorce.
What WV Divorce Laws Say about Property Division
Unless the spouses reach an agreement, the family court determines how to divide the marital property between the parties. The court starts with a presumption that an equal division is equitable, but it may deviate from an equal division based on the following factors:
- Each spouse’s monetary and non-monetary contributions to acquiring, maintaining, or growing the value of the property;
- Each spouse’s conduct that limited that spouse’s earning ability or enhanced the other spouse’s earning ability; and
- Each spouse’s conduct that resulted in dissipation (wasting) or depreciation of assets.
In short, to protect your property interests, your divorce lawyer will first gather information about all assets owned by you, by your spouse, and by the two of you together. The date you acquired each asset may help determine whether to argue that it should be considered marital property subject to division or separate property set aside to one spouse.
Your lawyer will also need information regarding the factors above to develop a strategy to protect your interests in the assets you and your spouse currently own.
When Spouses Reach Agreement on their WV Marital Property Division
Although the WV family court has jurisdiction to determine the division of assets in a divorce, the parties may negotiate the division of property and submit that agreement to the court for approval. Under WV Code § 48-7-102, the spouses can submit a WV divorce property settlement agreement to the court for approval. The court will approve that agreement unless any of the following apply:
- The court finds that the agreement was reached as a result of duress, fraud, or other unconscionable conduct by one of the spouses.
- The agreement is not legally enforceable.
- The agreement is so inequitable when considering each spouse’s contributions in the marriage that it would not comply with WV divorce laws’ requirement of equitable division.
Southern WV Divorce Lawyer Jason Harwood Can Help
Divorce can be painful, and disputes about dividing your assets can make it even harder. Even if you agree on what assets are marital property subject to division, spouses may disagree on the value of an asset. To protect your interests, you need a skilled family lawyer with years of experience helping divorcing spouses through the process.
Southern WV divorce attorney Jason Harwood at Harwood Legal, PLLC is that lawyer, with years of experience both as a family court judge and as a divorce attorney helping clients protect their rights as they end one phase of life and start on a new one. To learn how Jason can help with your divorce and the process of WV marital property division, call 304-752-5015 or complete his online contact form.