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Can my spouse really “take everything” in divorce?

We've all heard probably awful accounts from friends or seen movies where a couple gets divorced and one spouse takes all of the assets, leaving the other spouse with little or nothing. For some individuals, a misunderstanding of the divorce process and fear of losing everything in a divorce may keep them trapped in a marriage they wish to leave. If you worry that divorce will strip you of all of your assets, be sure to carefully examine your circumstances through the eyes of the law to get a strong grip on how your own divorce may play out.

In practice, it is not particularly common for one spouse to take the other spouse to the cleaners in a divorce. This sort of winner-takes-all narrative is more common in movies and television than it is in real life, much in the same way that it is not particularly common or wise for a family to first learn the contents of a person's will when he or she passes away. While these scenarios can happen, they are not the norm.

In a standard divorce, courts look for ways to give each spouse a share of the assets and liabilities that count as marital property. However, some factors may take precedence over equal or equitable property division, or may affect the range of outcomes. For instance, if one spouse asks for alimony, this may affect how the court views property division.

Similarly, if one spouse is physically abusive to the other, a court may consider this when handing down a property division decision. It is unlikely for one spouse to simply take all the assets unless the other spouse voluntarily gives them up. In such a circumstance, a court may allow a person to exit a marriage without taking many assets or going through complicated property division, but is not likely to force such an exit on a spouse unwillingly.

In your own case, you are far more likely to obtain the divorce you want if you approach the matter with a clear strategy and well-defined priorities. No divorce goes exactly the way either spouse hopes, but there are still plenty of legal tools you can use to protect your rights and interests as you dissolve your marriage and move on to the next chapter of life.

Source: FIndLaw, "Divorce Property Division FAQ," accessed April 06, 2018

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