Equitable Division of Marital Property in Georgia
In the United States, property, assets, and debts are generally divided in one of two different ways during a divorce. In a community property state, each spouse is automatically entitled to one-half of the marital estate. In an equitable division state, each party receives an “equitable portion” of the marital estate but that does not necessarily mean that each party is entitled to exactly one-half of the estate. In the United States, there are nine community property states, which include Arizona and California, and the remaining states, such as Georgia, are equitable division states.
Prior to discussing Georgia’s equitable distribution of marital property further, it is important to first understand what is and is not marital property. Martial property is the real and personal property and assets acquired by the parties during the marriage. Moore v Moore, 249 Ga. 27 (1982). Marital property does NOT include a property that one party brought to the marriage or property that one acquired during the marriage by gift, inheritance, bequest, or devise unless the appreciation in the value of said property was caused by efforts of the other property during the marriage. Payson v Payson, 274 Ga. 231 (2001) and Bailey v Bailey, 250 Ga. 15 (1982). Of note, gifts between spouses of marital property remain marital property subject to equitable division. McArthur v McArthur, 256 Ga. 762 (1987).
In regards to what the court ultimately determines is marital property, the Supreme Court has reiterated as recently as October 27, 2008 that equitable division does not necessarily mean an equal division of property. Arkwright v. Arkwright, S08F1399 (2008). Instead, the court is given broad discretion to determine, based upon the facts in any given case, how the division of marital assets shall occur. Trial courts tend to exercise this broad discretion by looking at the various factors such as each party’s contribution to the acquisition and maintenance of the property, the purpose and intent of the parties regarding the ownership of the property, the duration of the marriage, any prior marriage of either party, the conduct of the parties during the marriage and as cause of divorce, and the contribution or service of each spouse to the family unit. Yates v Yates, 259 Ga. 131, Moore v Moore, 249 Ga. 27 (1982), Lowery v Lowery, 262 Ga 20 (1992), and Peters v Peters, 248 Ga. 4980 (1981).