Two sets of hands, with two sets of keys between them to show what it's like splitting assets in a divorce

In 2011, around 59,000 civil cases in Canada encompassed over 53,000 divorce cases. When there is trouble in paradise and divorce ensues, Karen Finn, Ph.D. of Functional Divorce Process recommends “treating your relationship like a business, especially when it comes to income, expenses and assets.” After a divorce, household income drops by approximately 25 percent for men and 40 percent for women, according to government statistics. It can be financially devastating. To protect your wallet, here is  a list of 10 assets to be sure to include in your divorce mitigation.

1.Pensions and Retirement Plans

Pensions and retirement plans are marital property and are subject to division and distribution in divorce. As a matter of fact, they are one of the two largest assets a middle-class couple may have. The cash out or present value makes it easy to use pension during settlement negotiations. Trading away a plan requires the consideration of both short-term and long-term needs. And when both spouses have pensions, these assets can be used for trading. For example, a share of the marital home can be traded for part of the pension. Whether you decide for a 50/50 split of your spouse’s pension, a cash out or a trade-off, it should be included in the divorce settlement.

2.Family Businesses

Complicated property division issues can stem from family businesses. Its current and future value must be considered. Options include a buyout agreement and separation clauses. In a buyout agreement, one spouse purchases the portion owned by the other spouse. In separation agreements, different facets of the business can be given to each spouse. Either way, getting your fair share of a family business is important aspect of any divorce mitigation.

3.Inheritance

If an inheritance was not kept separate from marital property, it must be shared. For example, if one spouse deposits the inheritance into a joint checking account, it loses its designation as separate property. This would imply that the spouse intended to share the inheritance.

4.Gifts

Like an inheritance, gifts from third parties are considered separate party if they have not been commingled with marital assets. If a divorcing spouse has kept the funds from a gift in a bank account in their own name, the other spouse has no claim to it. However, if the funds have been used for a purchase in both spouse’s names, it’s considered marital property and subject to division.

5.Pets

With more and more people acquiring pets, pet custody can be a major issue in a divorce. In the eyes of the law, pets are personal property. If you and your soon-to-be-ex are sharing joint custody of a pet as part of your separation negotiation, it’s wise to work out who will be responsible for pet-related expenses.

6.Life Insurance

While a term life insurance policy is not marital or community property, a whole life insurance policy with cash surrender value is. An attorney can give you advice and guidance on how this life insurance policy will factor into your divorce.

7.Hidden Assets

Sometimes, one spouse may have a hidden asset. It could be hidden cash, collectibles or even secret business earnings. If you have any suspicions that your ex is hiding assets, let your attorney know right away. Tax returns, deferred compensation and documentation regarding banking records and UCC filings can be closely examined to identify hidden assets. A close investigation may just turn up assets that can be included in your divorce agreement.

8.The Kids Education

It’s not uncommon for divorcing couples to battle over who is going to pick up that bill from Harvard. An option is for both spouses to put money aside in a joint account or set up a minor’s trust. When drafted properly, a trust can also shield money from creditors. And if your spouse is unwilling to pay for half of a college education, the cost of tuition can be traded of for some other asset. The bottom line is that it’s important to have it outlined in a divorce agreement on who is going to pay what.

9.Stock Options

Stock options are property that can characterized as either separate or community property. Options for the employee spouse include paying the other spouse an offset for half the agreed value as part of the overall division of property or paying the other spouse in the future. It’s known as deferred distribution. You should consult with a divorce attorney and tax professional on how to best include the division of stock option assets in your divorce mitigation.

10.Family Heirlooms

Family heirlooms have both monetary value and sentimental value. It may be grandma’s china, a great-grandmother’s art deco jewelry or antique furniture. What happens with those family heirlooms typically depends on multiple factors. Were the items kept as separate property throughout the marriage? How did you acquire them? To protect your family heirlooms, an attorney can assist with negotiations and property division.

Kevin Worthley, a certified financial planner of Wealth Management Resources, advises divorcing couples to have a financial planner on the divorce team, get a complete inventory of marital assets and to get retirement and pension plans appraised. To learn more about what’s mine and what’s yours in a divorce, turn to the divorce experts at HART Legal.