As part of the job as a divorce attorney, I am responsible for delving into my clients financials in detail. When a client informs me that he or she has received or stands to receive an inheritance, the first question from him or her is always "can my soon to be ex take part of it?" As a rule of thumb, if you are left an inheritance (in your name only), it is not considered to be marital property and is not subject to be divided by the Court. It does not matter whether you received the inheritance during the marriage or if you only stand to receive it sometime down the road.
When parties are contemplating a divorce and ask me what the process will be like, I always tell clients that there are two distinct paths that a case can take. The first path is litigation. In this situation, one side files the complaint and then the parties engage in discovery wherein the attorneys exchange information regarding the parties' assets and liabilities. Once this process is complete, the parties and their attorneys attend a pre-trial conference. If the matter can not be settled there, the Court schedules a trial and each side presents testimony and evidence in order to prove how the assets should be divided and what amount, if any, of alimony is appropriate.
Recently, a friend of mine asked what happens to an engagement ring if a wedding is called off. It may or may not have had something to do with the fact that he was recently engaged (I chose to turn a blind eye to that fact and simply answered his question). Although this problem tends to arise in law school fact patterns and in jokes between buddies more often than in real life, the problem does arise from time to time and can be a contentious issue considering the emotions involved.
In a number of my recent divorce cases, I encountered situations wherein one party decides to remove or destroy marital assets prior to anyone filing for divorce. Obviously, when my clients found out, it caused significant conflict and added even more stress to the divorce process. The first question from my clients was, "what can we do to stop my spouse from doing this?"
At the beginning of the divorce process, many clients ask me whether or not they should stay in the marital home or move out. My advice to the client is always to remain in the marital residence until the process has begun and, if necessary have a judge determine which party should remain in the home. Obviously, continuing to live in the same home as the person you are preparing to divorce is not a comfortable situation for either party. However, if the court thinks that the parties can live together peacefully in the home during the period of separation the court will not evict either spouse.
I recently received a call from my friend's son. He was excited. He had met the girl of his dreams and he was about to take the big step and buy a ring. As he was planning on spending about $15,000, his Dad suggested that he call me, a Family Law attorney, to get "the legal low down" on engagement rings (i.e. who gets the ring if the couple ultimately does not get married).
At some point during Divorce proceedings, the parties and their Counsels must deal with the division of the marital estate or equitable distribution. Pennsylvania lawyers know that the marital estate is generally defined as that property that the parties obtain during the marriage and before separation. There are certain exclusions such as inheritances or gifts, but generally it is the property obtained plus any increase in value of property brought into the marriage.
Celebrity divorce settlements are absorbing for many reasons. Beyond the gossip, it can be intriguing to consider, from a legal point of view, what issues may arise during the divorce when substantial income and assets are involved. Even though the divorcing couple may be quite wealthy, however, the division of assets for higher net-worth individuals and couples during divorce follows a similar process to that which anyone seeking a divorce would find. There are some additional issues, of course, such as the valuation of the assets and the determination of what earnings should be shared in the long term. Those extra steps can also add to the cost of the divorce itself.
Even when a divorce is amicable, deciding how to divide the household's property is difficult. When a divorce is contentious, the problem is much much worse. In longer marriages in particular, there can be many types of property involved, and valuation of these assets can be very fluid. In other words, it is going to be hard for people who do not trust each other to agree on the value of many of the assets.