What is a Division of Property and Debts?

What’s the general rule of property division (equitable distribution, community property, or legal title)?

Courts grant equitable distribution in Missouri.   Unlike child custody determinations, misconduct of a party (infidelity, illegal activity, criminal immigration, etc.) can be a factor in determining property settlement.  Property is divided into two broad categories, marital and separate.  Separate property, in general, is property a party owns prior to marriage, or obtained during marriage by gift or inheritance, or by the agreement of the parties.  Marital property is all else.  There is a presumption of marital property if the property is acquired during marriage, regardless of whose name is on the title.  Courts can divide marital property in any way deemed by the Court to be “equitable.”  This generally can be appealed only if the division is NOT equitable, a very difficult notion to prove.  As a result, property division is rarely overturned, unless a party can successfully file a Coram Nobis petition.

If a party can “trace” separate property, it will likely remain separate, and thus not divisible by the Court.  This means, for example, that if a party sells a home acquired before marriage (separate) and purchase stock with the proceeds of that sale, the stock is considered separate property.

What effect does the conduct of the parties have on property division?

As discussed above, misconduct of a party can be a factor in determining an “equitable” distribution of the marital property.  This actually amounts to the Court assigning blame to a party through giving more of the marital property to the other spouse.

What effect does the length of the marriage have on property division?

Not a real factor, except in analyzing the “tracing” of separate property and the standard of living the parties have become accustomed to.