How Much is My Ex-Spouse Entitled To After A Divorce?
I hear this a lot from clients who earn the majority of the income in a relationship. They are confounded and perplexed to learn how much property and/or spousal support their soon-to-be ex partners are entitled to.
“I’m the one who went out to work every day,” I often hear. “She got to stay home with the kids! I paid for everything. Why is she getting half my pension?!”
Or house equity. Or paycheck. Or business. Or whatever.
Under Vermont law, all property (and debts) no matter through whom acquired or when acquired, is considered to be part of the marital estate, to be apportioned as the parties or the court sees fit. Marriage is a partnership, with tasks and chores presumably divvied up to the parties’ satisfaction. If you weren’t happy for the past 20 years, then you should have gotten divorced long ago. If you wait 20 years and then claim at trial that you feel that your tasks were never fairly divided, you have an uphill battle. The court hears this self-serving argument all too often.
[As an aside, when my clients make the argument referenced above I am quick to point out that if they didn’t bear the kids should this mean they have no rights to them? That they can never see them again? This would be the equally foolish logical corollary.]
It could be that circumstances did keep you in the relationship longer than you would have liked; that your partner didn’t pull his or her weight, or that they squandered resources. This isn’t uncommon. But the presumption is that contributions were equal and the burden of proof is on the party making an argument to the contrary.
Under the law, Vermont courts take into consideration the contribution of the respective parties to the marital estate as well as any wasting of assets when called upon to decide who gets what. Among the considerations are the contributions of the homemaker and possible opportunities foregone as a result of that position. The person in the workforce usually sees their assets as an employee improve over time, and thus their economic outlook improves as well. Not all employers value the skills of the homemaker however. Thus, the person staying home with the kids not only arguably contributes equally to the household’s maintenance and well-being, but they also suffer opportunity cost. The court’s task is to determine how to put the parties on an equal footing as they head out of the gate on separate paths. This often takes the shape of giving the homemaker some financial support (alimony and/or a larger share of the assets.
If you are facing a divorce and interested in learning more about defending your assets or gaining financial support from your ex-spouse, contact experienced Vermont divorce attorney, Kevin Volz at 802.775.0700.