When a couple faces the inevitability of going their separate ways, one of the first things they wonder about is how to split their property in a divorce. Second only to child custody, separating assets is one of the most contentious aspects of divorce. While a handful of states are community property states in which the courts consider all assets collected during a marriage to belong jointly to both spouses and divide them 50/50, Colorado isn’t one of them. Instead, Colorado doesn’t assume all property accumulated during the marriage as jointly owned but as remaining individual property. Colorado remains an equitable division and dual-property state.
Understanding Equitable Division
Under Colorado’s Revised Statute Section 14-10-113, the state must first find the total value of the property owned by both parties in the marriage and then follow a plan for the most equitable division possible, with a goal of fairness if not necessarily strictly even division.
Colorado uses a 3-step process of equitable division by:
- Identifying all property and debts
- Valuing all property
- Dividing all property and debts
Both parties must make full written disclosures of their assets and debts. In the best-case scenario, a couple can form their own, mutually agreed-upon division with or without the help of a mediator. Professional mediation is highly recommended as a way to settle asset division fairly, civilly, and in a way that minimizes contention in a safe, controlled environment. If negotiations fail and a couple can’t reach a resolution even with mediation, the matter goes to court for a judge to decide.
How Judges Approach Equitable Division in Colorado Courts
Judges attempt to divide marital property in a way that’s the fairest for both parties in a divorce. While every case is unique, a judge might consider specific factors such as one party placing their career goals on hold in order to take care of the children and the home. In this case, fair distribution may not be the same as equal division and the spouse who earns less might get to keep a greater share of the marital assets.
Colorado judges consider the following during property division in divorce:
- Each party’s financial situation
- Increase or decrease in shared property during the time of the marriage
- Whether or not the parent with primary custody wishes to remain in the family home
- Determining separate vs. marital property
Understanding Separate and Marital Property
Colorado law recognizes two types of property, separate and marital. Separate property is that which a spouse owned before the marriage either through purchase or inheritance. It also pertains to debts incurred by each individual before the marriage.
The term marital property describes all assets acquired jointly during the marriage such as real estate, vehicles, businesses, art, jewelry, and collectibles as well as joint debts such as credit cards.
Dividing separate and marital property becomes complex when couples commingle property throughout the course of a marriage. Separate bank accounts commingle when a spouse makes deposits and separate real estate property may become joint when a spouse puts money and time into it. These types of commingled assets may be difficult to divide equitably and often leads to contentious negotiation during divorce.
How an Attorney Can Help
An experienced Denver property division attorney can help you understand your rights under Colorado’s equitable division laws and may have solutions to help facilitate a fair division while advocating aggressively for the best possible outcome for your unique case.