Divorcing Minnesota couples usually strive to reach an amicable property division agreement at the negotiating table. When these discussions fail and family law judges are called upon to divide marital estates, state law requires them to base their decisions on the principle of equitable distribution. This means that the division of marital property must be fair, but it does not have to be equal. Minnesota also has a no-fault divorce law, which means judges do not consider the reasons why a marriage failed when they determine how a couple’s assets should be divided.
Factors that influence equitable distribution
Family law judges in states with equitable distribution laws must consider several factors before they make property division decisions. Each state sets its own guidelines, but they are all fairly similar. In Minnesota, judges must consider the following factors:
- The length of the marriage
- The ages and physical and mental health of the spouses
- The occupations and incomes of the spouses
- Prior marriages, if any
- The vocational skills and employability of the spouses
- The contributions made by each spouse during the marriage
- The sacrifices made by homemakers
- Irresponsible spending by either spouse
Only assets acquired and debts taken on during a marriage are divided in a Minnesota divorce. Assets or obligations that spouses had prior to getting married are considered separate property, and so are inheritances and gifts received during the marriage. However, separate assets may become part of the marital estate and subject to division through a process called commingling. This could happen if marital funds are placed in a separate bank account or are used to maintain or improve separate assets.
Estranged couples should always try to reach amicable settlement agreements because there is no guarantee that they will be happy with what a judge considers equitable distribution. This is not always easy when emotions run high during a divorce, so many couples take a proactive approach and draft prenuptial or postnuptial agreements. If these agreements are basically fair and negotiated in good faith, they can prevent long, costly and public court battles.