State Laws Vary on the Division of Marital Property in Divorce

If you are thinking of initiating a divorce proceeding, be sure to understand how the state family code could affect your case, particularly how the provisions apply to property division. Each state has the authority to enact laws affecting marriage and divorce. California is a “community property” state, which means that any and all assets and debts accumulated during the marriage are likely to be divided evenly in divorce (with a few exceptions, such as gifts and inheritances). Identifying and characterizing property in a divorce proceeding can affect the couple’s settlement, in terms of how the assets and debts are allocated. If you are going through a divorce, it is imperative that you contact an experienced family law attorney from the local San Diego area, who will be fully familiar with the laws affecting your case.

State laws certainly vary with respect to the division of property. A recent, widely publicized case from Oklahoma underscores that state’s unique laws pertaining to the division of wealth accumulated during a marriage. According to news reports, oil-man Harold Hamm will pay his ex-wife nearly $1 billion as part of one of the biggest divorce settlements in history. The Hamms were married in 1988 and have no children together. Mrs. Hamm filed for divorce in 2012.

One of the controversial issues in this case was how Mr. Hamm made his fortune: through expertise or sheer luck. Interestingly enough, under Oklahoma law, the money a spouse earns during a marriage can be included in a divorce settlement if it is earned through skill. But if the earnings can be attributable to something beyond the party’s control, such as a change in the economy, the money may not be included in the ultimate settlement.

Although Hamm seemed to create this vast wealth, his lawyers attempted to argue that he “stumbled into his billions.” But there was much evidence that Hamm’s business judgment and leadership abilities contributed to his success. The court did not accept the portrayal of Mr. Hamm as simply lucky in business, but instead pointed out that his skills and efforts led to an increase in value for his company. The court further described Hamm as an “expert in the oil field service business.” As for his ex-wife, although the court awarded her almost $1 billion, this amount did not include “support alimony,” as it is known in Oklahoma. The court found that she did not present evidence to support her need for alimony, concluding that her share of the marital estate is a substantial sum of money. Subsequent news reports indicate that Mrs. Hamm intends to appeal the judgment, arguing that it greatly undervalues the marital wealth to which she is entitled.

Under California family law, when a couple divorces, the court typically awards each spouse 50% of the marital property, without taking into account notions of skill and luck. In fact, section 2550 of the Code specifically provides that the court shall “divide the community estate of the parties equally.”

The Hamm case illustrates the importance of understanding the laws affecting divorce in your specific jurisdiction. An experienced family law attorney would be able to guide you through the process. Roy M. Doppelt has been representing parties involved in family law disputes for more than 20 years. Doppelt and Forney, APLC serves clients throughout Southern California, including San Diego, Encinitas, La Jolla, and Chula Vista. For a free consultation, contact Doppelt and Forney, APLC through our website, or give us a call toll-free at (800) ROY IS IT (769-4748).

Related Blog Posts:

California Courts Retain Jurisdiction to Allocate Community Property After Divorce Judgment

Division of Community Property in Divorce Includes Assets and Debts

Court Determined Whether Separate Property Has Been “Transmuted” to Community Property

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