When dividing assets in a divorce, spouses often focus their energies on the big assets, like the house and the retirement accounts, and other obvious items that are used every day, such as the vehicles. In focusing on the larger and more frequently used assets, others tend to be overlooked. Whether they are forgotten altogether, or just left until the last minute, they deserve thoughtful consideration also.
Pets may seem obvious because you interact with them on a daily basis. People often forget to include the family dog in their discussions of who gets what. And, that makes sense, because while the family pet may be more like a child to the parties, the law (in Colorado) treats pets like any other asset. Sometimes the spouse that stayed in the marital residence while the divorce was pending keeps the pet, because the family pet also stayed at the marital residence during that time, by default. In the same vein, while both spouses usually wish to keep the pet, sometimes the pet can require such time commitment and expense, that taking on the responsibility of the family pet all alone can actually be burdensome. In those circumstances, spouses may have concerns about who has to keep the elderly pet, for example, and thus be responsible for the pet’s more involved needs, costly vet bills, etc. Whichever way you might fall on the issue of dear old Spot, don’t neglect to address him in your division of property.
2. Airline Miles/Points
Not easily forgotten in the division of the marital estate is who should be responsible for paying credit card debts. However, credit cards often include an asset: airline miles, hotel points, and other rewards. If the division of corresponding accumulated miles/points/rewards are not specifically addressed in the division of property, probably the spouse that takes the debt (if any) associated with the card, or the spouse whose name is on the credit account (if not joint), will get to keep them. Often times the outstanding miles or points far exceed the outstanding debt balance, as they are saved up over time and are only used once they reach a sizable amount to be cashed in for a larger reward, and for that reason, the value of the miles/points/rewards can be far greater than might be first gleaned.
3. Retirement Accounts from Short-Stint Jobs
While the large retirement account from the career-long job is usually a primary focus of the asset division, smaller retirement accounts or pensions from shorter-term jobs from a lifetime ago, early on in the marriage, are often completely forgotten. Spouses should be sure to include these other smaller retirement accounts in the property division discussions, as the payout at retirement can add up and make at least a small difference when living on a fixed income.
When you are in the middle of a divorce, whether it is particularly contentious or not, the last thing on your mind may be pictures of various memories with your soon-to-be ex-spouse. However, when the dust settles, those pictures often become more important. If you have children, you are going to want copies of pictures from important events and milestones from throughout their lives. And even if you don’t have children, there may be some memories that you might want pictures of, perhaps with loved ones that are no longer around, or simply because you had some good times with your ex-spouse that deserve to be remembered. One easy way to address pictures (or videos) is to make copies of everything so that there is no need to figure out who should keep the documented memories from your child’s 1st birthday.
5. Your Children’s College Savings Accounts
These could be 529 accounts which are assets of the parties or custodian accounts which belong to the children. It is important to address college savings accounts to determine which parent will manage the account (often only one of the parents can be named on the account), terms for providing copies of statements to the other parent, how future contributions (if any) will be made, how the funds will be used, and what should happen to the funds in the event that the child does not use all of them.
6. Storage Units
One asset (or, rather, a collection of many assets) that both spouses often conveniently forget about until sometime long after the ink is dry is a storage unit. As with pictures often tucked away in dusty boxes in the basement, storage units tend to go forgotten, because, well, out of sight, out of mind. Make sure to address storage units, and all of the property found in them, as there are often important family heirlooms (which may also indicate overlooked separate property claims), that are found in them. There is also a question of who should be responsible for paying for the storage unit between the time the divorce is final and the time storage unit can be cleared out, and if payment lapses, both spouses may find themselves losing out on the contents of the storage unit in the shuffle of dividing assets (including the bank account from which the storage unit bill may automatically be paid).
7. Trust Interests
This one is a little bit different, but the concept is the same. Often a spouse may be named as a beneficiary of a trust, but they go overlooked for several reasons: because they are not receiving anything from the trust yet, and so there is an assumption that it is not something that can or should be considered in the property division, or even because they may not know they are named as a beneficiary. The question of whether a trust interest is a marital asset is a complex one that needs to be evaluated in detail by your lawyer.
Danielle Contos’s practice has focused on complex financial matters, parental responsibilities, interstate jurisdictional disputes, and challenges to and enforcement of premarital agreements. She earned her J.D. from the University of Denver’s Sturm College of Law. Ms. Contos has been honored as a Colorado Super Lawyer® “Rising Star” in both 2017 and 2018.