The first thing to say here is: what exactly is matrimonial property? The law says it’s all the property belonging to the parties (or either of them) when they separated, and which was acquired by them during the marriage but before the separation.
In addition, a house bought before the marriage can be matrimonial property if it was bought as a family home. Likewise, other property bought before the marriage can qualify if intended to be furniture or plenishings for a family home.
Therefore, anything acquired after separation will not be matrimonial property. Nor will other assets acquired before the marriage. Property gifted or inherited from a third party will be discounted as well. It can be more complicated however when to give just one example money inherited by one spouse is then used to pay for an extension to the matrimonial home. Or when one party is given a car which is then sold and the money used to buy a cottage.
Remember therefore that in general it is only the matrimonial property at the date of separation that is taken into account here, although any increase in the value of investments or savings spouses had the marriage could be taken into account in some circumstances.
Given the examples quoted, it can readily be seen that this can be a complicated area.
The law says that only matrimonial property owned by a couple is to be shared fairly. In the absence of special circumstances, “file” means “equally”. That means in many if not most cases, what a couple own together will be divided on a 50/50 basis.
What might be special circumstances? Well, a couple may have agreed a different arrangement previously. It may be that one spouse made a disproportionate contribution to the value of matrimonial property. A spouse may have gambled away money or behaved in a financially reckless way. There are many other examples and in such situations, the court can order a different i.e. unequal share.
It should also be borne in mind that gifts and property acquired by way of inheritance are not regarded as matrimonial property.
Sometimes it is argued that a wife should get a larger share of the matrimonial property if there are children and she has been and will continue to be the main carer. That’s because she has what is called the “economic burden” of caring for the children after divorce.
The courts are given specific powers to deal with the situation where divorce might result in serious financial hardship to one of the spouses. A spouse for example might have serious health problems and require ongoing financial support after divorce.
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