You don’t ever want your divorce to make the news. Frankly, that is a good general goal to have in any legal proceeding.
A recent news item out of Philadelphia (where else?) provides an excellent example of how NOT to handle marital property disputes during your divorce. Read on to find out how you SHOULD handle marital property disputes in a Maryland Divorce.
A man in Philadelphia resorted to some self help in disposing of marital assets during what must be a contentious divorce. He drove his wife’s red corvette to the edge of the river, gunned the engine, and drove it right in. He jumped out at the river’s edge and the car sank to the bottom. The police found the car in 30 feet of water.
According to local Philly news stories, the divorcing couple had a dispute about various vehicles and which one he was allowed to use. So he decided to get rid of the car his own way. He claims it was a calculated act to dispose of the object of argument, but I personally think it was an act of rage. It might be funny, which is why it makes the news. But it is not a smart thing to do during a divorce.
Interestingly, the man will probably not be charged with vehicle theft. He was joint owner of the car. Therefore he did not technically “steal” the car. I imagine authorities will charge him with something. Maybe malicious destruction of property? Environmental crimes? Littering? I don’t know the laws in Philly, but I can bet they won’t just let the guy walk away scot free on this one.
Regardless of the criminal law case to be made here, it is almost certain that a divorce court judge will punish him for this action. I can almost guarantee the property settlement in his divorce action will be somewhat tilted towards his wife. The judge has an awful lot of power to order the division of assets and debts during a divorce, and it would not surprise me if reparations of sorts are made in the final divorce order. This rash action will cost him – probably in the wallet where it will hurt the most. Driving his wife’s car into the river may cause him to have a hard road ahead (pun alert!).
In Maryland, the court will make an “equitable” division of the “marital property.” The court will not simply total up the property and spit it in half, as they do in community property states. Many people mistakenly think that is how divorce always works because two of the biggest community property states are California and New York, where all the celebrity divorces occur.
In a Maryland divorce, the “marital property” is all the property the couple acquired during the term of the marriage. So property you brought into the marriage is not subject to division. And when the court makes an “equitable” division, that means they don’t necessarily make it even – they make it fair. The court gets to define what “fair” is, and that gives divorce judges a lot of leeway to make marital property distributions.
Of course, the court must apply certain factors and standards, and case law will guide their decision. But ultimately they have to make a judgement call when they divide the assets of a divorcing couple. Knowing what the rules are, and what a particular judge will do, is one of the main reasons you really need a local attorney to handle your divorce.
We always advise our divorce clients to think 10 years ahead, not 10 minutes ahead. What will make you feel better right now may also cause some serious regrets later on. You have to remain smart during a divorce, even though your emotions will tell you otherwise. If you want to learn more about marital property division in Maryland, and how we advise people to handle a divorce, see our Free Legal Consumer Guide on Divorce and Separation.