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How Minnesota judges create an 'equitable' property division

Like most states, Minnesota uses the “equitable division” standard when splitting up marital property during a divorce. It is important to remember that, in this context, “equitable” does not automatically mean “equal,” though in some cases that may be the result. Instead, the aim is for the division to be fair to both sides.

When divorcing spouses cannot settle on how to divide up their assets and debts, it may fall upon the family court judge to do it. Determining an equitable division of property is left to the judge’s discretion, but Minnesota law directs judges to consider all relevant factors, a long list of considerations that includes:

  • How long the marriage lasted.
  • The spouses’ ages.
  • The spouses’ health.
  • What the spouses do for a living, if anything, and their vocational skills and employability.
  • Each spouses’ opportunities for others sources of capital assets and/or income.
  • Each spouse’s needs.

Besides examining the spouses, the judge is supposed to consider each spouse’s contributions to the marital property and the value of that property. The law recognizes that homemakers contribute substantially, if indirectly, to the acquisition of marital assets, by relieving the breadwinner of some of the burden of keeping the home and child care.

Though family court judges take this task seriously, their decisions are not always correct. If necessary, a divorced person’s attorney can appeal a ruling to obtain a more equitable result that does not cause a financial hardship to one of the parties.

Of course, most cases are settled out of court, and a knowledgeable divorce lawyer is equally adept at the negotiation table as in the courtroom.

Source: 14 Minn. Prac., Family Law § 9:29 (3d ed.)

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