Q. Is each spouse entitled to half of their property?

    A. Equal division is not required, although that is the outcome in many cases.

    Q. Is Maryland a "community property" state?

    A. No. Maryland is not a "community property" state. Maryland has an "equitable
    distribution" statute. Labels are not important. Read more FAQs to find out how
    Maryland courts handle property.

    Q. Can one spouse be forced to pay the debts of the other? Can one spouse be
    forced to pay joint debts of the parties?

    A. A court may not require one spouse to pay the sole obligation of the other, or to
    satisfy joint obligations of the parties such as mortgages and taxes on real
    property, or pay the interest on joint promissory notes. However, if one parent gets
    use and possession of a house or car, for example, the other parent can be
    forced to contribute to the mortgage or car payment.

    Q. What is "marital property"?

    A. Marital property is: (a) Real property held as tenants by the entirety, unless
    excluded by valid agreement. (b) Any property acquired by one or both parties
    during marriage, and does not include any property (1) acquired before the
    marriage, (2) acquired by inheritance or gift from a third party, (3) excluded by valid
    agreement or (4) directly traceable to any of these sources.

    Q. What does "acquired" mean?

    A. Maryland courts have defined the term "acquired" as the ongoing process of
    making payment for property. Under this definition, characterization of property as
    nonmarital or marital depends upon the source of each contribution as payments
    are made, rather than the time at which legal or equitable title to or possession of
    the property is obtained. So, for example, a house that had been acquired by one
    spouse, subject to a mortgage, prior to a marriage, is initially wholly nonmarital
    property; as mortgage payments are made out of marital funds during the
    marriage, the property becomes partially marital.

    Q. What does "directly traceable" mean?

    A. "Directly traceable" is not synonymous with "attributable." When marital and
    nonmarital funds are commingled, no specific sum of money used to acquire
    property or reduce an indebtedness on any property can be directly traced to any
    source. This inability to trace property acquired during the marriage directly to a
    nonmarital source simply means that all property so acquired is marital property.

    Q. Do hidden assets or wasted assets count?

    A. Dissipation may be found where one spouse uses marital property for his or
    her own benefit for a purpose unrelated to the marriage at a time where the
    marriage is undergoing an  irreconcilable breakdown. When a court finds that
    property was dissipated to the point of being a fraud on marital rights, it should
    consider the dissipated property as extant to be valued with other existing marital

    Q. Does title ownership affect whether property is marital property?

    A. Characterization as marital or nonmarital property disregards title, except real
    property held as tenants by the entirety, which is deemed marital. The court may
    order the sale of jointly titled real or personal property, and division of the
    proceeds. But the court cannot transfer title ownership of property, except for
    pension, retirement, profit sharing or deferred compensation.

    Q. Can one spouse be forced to sell or transfer a house or other property to the

    A. Yes. A Maryland court may order transfer of ownership of the principal marital
    residence from one party to the other, or to authorize one party to purchase the
    residence from the other, on court-ordered terms. In addition, a Maryland court
    may order transfer of vehicles or other family use personal property from one or
    both spouses to one spouse, subject to the consent of any lien holders.

    Q. What is a "monetary award"?

    A. A monetary award is an adjustment of the equities and rights of the parties
    concerning marital property. In other words, it is what a court orders one spouse
    to pay the other spouse so that what each takes from the marriage is fair under all
    the circumstances of the case.

    Q. How does a court make a monetary award?

    A. Maryland courts apply a three-step process: (1) Determine what property is
    marital property. (2) Determine the value of all marital property. (3) Make a
    monetary award as an adjustment of the equities and rights of the parties.

    Q. Is there a formula for making a monetary award or dividing property?

    A. No.

    Q. What factors does a court consider in making a monetary award?

    A. Here is a list of some of the factors:  (1) contributions, both monetary and
    nonmonetary, of each party to the well-being of the family  (2) the value of all
    property interests of each party  (3) economic circumstances of each party at time
    of award  (4) circumstances that contributed to estrangement of parties  (5)
    duration of marriage  (6) age of each party  (7) physical and mental condition of
    each party  (8) how and when specific assets acquired, and efforts expended by
    each in accumulating marital property  (9) alimony award and use and
    possession award  (10) nonmarital contribution to real property held as tenants by
    the entirety  (11) any other factor deemed necessary or appropriate.

    Q. What is the relationship between alimony and a monetary award?

    A. Maryland courts have said that alimony and a monetary award are "significantly
    interrelated and largely inseparable," but that a monetary award is not a "form of
    nor substitute for" alimony. In other words, the court must consider the two issues
    together in order to achieve a fair result.

    Q. What happens to nonmarital property?

    A. Nothing, usually. The owner of nonmarital property keeps it.  However, in
    considering a monetary award, and in deciding on alimony, a Maryland court must
    consider all of the financial circumstances and resources of each of the parties,
    including any nonmarital property. If a judgment is entered against someone for a
    monetary award, nothing prohibits the party entitled to the judgment from going
    after nonmarital property to collect it.

    Q. What is a marital debt?

    A. A "marital debt" is a debt that is directly traceable to the acquisition of marital

    Q. Can one spouse be awarded the exclusive right to temporary use and
    possession of property?

    A. A spouse with custody of a minor child of the parties can be awarded use and
    possession of a family home, car, furniture, furnishings and home appliances. In
    making an award, the court considers the best interests of the child, the interests
    of each party in continued use of the property as a dwelling place or to provide
    income, and the hardship, if any, on the party whose interest would be infringed.  

    Q. How long can a use and possession award last?

    A. Use and possession must terminate no later than three years after a divorce is

    Q. Can a use and possession award include an order to pay expenses?

    A. Yes. The court can allocate financial responsibilities over property, which is the
    subject of a use and possession award, including (1) mortgage or rent, (2)
    indebtedness related to property, and (3) maintenance and other expenses of
Marital Property

NOTICE: None of these questions and answers constitute legal advice.
To obtain legal advice, consult with an attorney. This is especially
important in divorce and family law matters, in which outcomes are often
peculiar to the particular facts and circumstances of the case.
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