Can property division in a divorce implicate other areas of law?

Even if a couple has agreed to approach their divorce amicably, there is no guarantee that complications won’t arise. For example, the issue of property division can quickly get complex and raise related questions of law.

Consider the implications of estate law. An individual may have named his soon-to-be former spouse as the beneficiary of a retirement plan or life insurance policy. After the divorce, he or she will want to update those beneficiary designations. Yet does the other spouse have a claim to those assets as part of the marital estate?

The answer requires an examination of Maryland’s marital property laws. Maryland, like most states, is an equitable distribution state. Instead of an exact 50-50 split of property, a divorce court will endeavor to reach a fair division of property. Generally speaking, marital property is defined as any assets that a couple acquires after their marriage.

Getting back to our example, retirement accounts that an individual had before his or her marriage would seem to fall outside that definition, right? The answer requires a little context. First, simply designating a spouse as a beneficiary on an asset does not necessarily amount to marital property, as beneficiaries generally don’t have a claim to assets until they have vested. Until that time, an individual can change beneficiary designations at will, generally without notice to the former beneficiaries. In addition, property that an individual owned before marriage is not marital property. However, any appreciation that occurred on that asset during the marriage could be considered marital property.

Our law office focuses on a full range of family law and divorce issues. As this example illustrates, there can also be overlap between areas, such as divorce and estate law. Make sure you’ve sought the advice of an attorney that is well versed in both areas.

Source: FindLaw, "Maryland Marital Property Laws," copyright 2015, Thomson Reuters