Divorce Law: What is Equitable Distribution?

When you and your spouse were first married, you came with whatever assets you’d each accumulated or earned before, then moved on to work together to earn and purchase and invest in additional belongings and accounts. You may have purchased personal items like furniture and jewelry or made major investments like a house, vehicles, or retirement funds, all with an eye to a long, happy future together. Now that you’re divorcing, all of those belongings and accounts are subject to what is known as equitable distribution. Equitable distribution is a legal process by which both property and debt is identified as either marital or non-marital, then divided in a way that is considered fair.

The first thing that you need to know before going into an equitable distribution conversation is that there is a significant difference between what is equal and what is fair. The division of what is owned and what is owed requires careful determination of what property and liabilities and separate and remain with whichever spouse it accrued from and which are shared, or marital.

When approaching this determination, it is generally accepted that whatever a spouse owned or owed before they were married is not part of marital property and whatever was acquired or incurred since the marriage is considered marital property. Though you may think that means that what was held previously remains with its original owner and what is acquired within the marriage gets divided in half, that is not necessarily the case.

There are a variety of elements and factors to be considered in determining what is fair. These include whether a premarital asset has gained greater value during the years of the marriage; whether one spouse has greater earning capacity than the other; whether one spouse contributed to the other’s education or success, and more. Inheritances and gifts need to be addressed, and liabilities also need to be considered.

Conversations revolving around equitable distribution can be extremely adversarial, as both parties often believe that they made greater contributions to the marriage and are deserving of a significant percentage of what is being divided. The best way to address these emotional issues is to work with a divorce attorney who is experienced in negotiating issues of equitable distribution, and who will strive to make sure that you are treated fairly and are able to move forward with confidence. For information on how we can help, contact us today to set up an appointment.