What Does Equitable Distribution Mean in Divorce?

The court uses equitable distribution to divide assets fairly

There are many things to consider when you’ve decided to get a divorce. Not only is it a major life decision, but it also causes some disruption to everyday life. Each state is different in terms of its divorce laws. While some states adhere to common law property when it comes to divorce, Virginia is of the majority of states that follow equitable distribution. So, what does equitable distribution mean in divorce?

Simply put, equitable distribution is the division of assets of the divorcing couple. There are many different circumstances and definitions involved in equitable distribution that are important to know before moving forward in your divorce. Learn more about what equitable distribution is and how it may affect your divorce.

Equitable Distribution Definition

As defined by Merriam-Webster, the legal definition of equitable distribution is “the distribution of marital assets by a court in a divorce action in accordance with statutory guidelines that are designed to produce a fair but not necessarily equal division of the property.” 

It is important to note that the term “equitable” does not mean equal. The judge in your case may choose to divide assets in ways that are not viewed as equal. However, a judge divides assets in a manner that is fair.

Separate vs. Marital Property

An essential part of the equitable distribution process in divorce is determining the difference between separate and marital property. 

Separate Property

Any property or assets that belonged to one spouse before the marriage are usually categorized as separate property. Those assets inherited before or during the marriage are also usually part of this group. In Richmond, Virginia, assets, and property deemed separate by the judge are not part of the equitable division. 

Marital Property

The property that was acquired during the marriage is defined as marital property. This usually includes land, homes, and large purchases made by the couple sometime throughout their marriage. However, marital property does not include any property obtained through gifts, bequests, or those given according to a written agreement. 

Marital property also includes any marital debt that occurred over the course of the marriage. This debt is often a point of issue with couples in deciding how to split up the debt in terms of future financial responsibility. 

How Does the Court Find a Fair Division of Property?

The court will consider many different specifics regarding your marriage. Some of the details they will need to find a fair division of property includes:

  • Length of the marriage
  • Earning power of each spouse
  • The financial condition of each spouse
  • The overall value of the separate property for each spouse
  • How much each spouse contributed to acquiring the marital property, both financially and non-financially
  • Future financial needs of each spouse
  • Future financial liabilities or debts of each spouse
  • Age and overall health of each spouse
  • Liquidity of marital property
  • Tax consequences of the property
  • Premarital and prenuptial agreements
  • Spousal maintenance or alimony obligations

Equitable Distribution Frequently Asked Questions

There are many common questions asked when it comes to the division of property in a divorce. Learn more about what equitable distribution means in divorce with these answers.

Can My Spouse and I Divide Property by Ourselves?

Yes! The equitable distribution process allows couples to come to their own agreement when dividing assets. You don’t need a judge to decide how to split up the property if you and your spouse come to an agreement together. 

What if We Can Agree on Some Things but Not Others?

If you and your spouse have trouble coming to a full agreement on your property, a court can help you decide according to equitable distribution laws. The court will only do so on areas of the estate that you can not agree with your spouse.

How are Debts Divided?

Marital debt is often part of marital property. Any debt that occurred over the course of the marriage becomes the responsibility of both spouses. Equitable distribution takes into consideration the current outstanding debt of the couple combined, as well as other factors involving finances.

Does Equitable Distribution Mean Equally Divided?

No, equitable does not mean equal. An impartial judge will decide what is fair, depending on different factors involved in the equitable distribution process. 

How Are Gifts to Each Other Split Up?

It is common for a spouse to give a gift to the other spouse throughout a marriage. While the gift was only to one spouse, the gift is usually considered marital property and is subject to equitable distribution laws.

How Is Property Divided if My Spouse Cheated?

The personal actions of a spouse are not usually part of the equitable distribution process. However, a spouse’s behavior will be taken into consideration if it impacts the marriage finances. 

Is Spousal Support Part of the Equitable Distribution Process?

No, spousal support is determined separately. Payments from one spouse to the other help the spouse maintain a lifestyle as close as possible to the one they had during the marriage. The marital property division may be part of this decision, though, to help determine what is appropriate. 

What if My Spouse Incurs Debt or Sells Property During the Divorce Process?

Any spouse who misuses or purposely tries to hide or sell off property during the divorce may have committed marital waste. These actions will be taken into consideration by the court during the equitable divorce process. 

How Donita King Law Offices Can Help

The equitable distribution process in divorce is meant to assist divorcing couples separate their assets and property fairly and legally. The court will decide on dividing property if the couple is unable to come to an agreement themselves. 

When going through your own divorce, consider contacting Donita King Law Offices in Richmond for help. Ms. King is an experienced mediator and lawyer who focuses on helping clients find alternative ways to resolve legal disputes without going to court. Learn more about how Donita King Law Offices can help you understand what equitable distribution means in divorce.

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Donita King

Ms. King is a member of the Virginia, Pennsylvania, and D.C. State Bars. She also serves as a University of Richmond School of Law Adjunct Professor of Mediation. She previously served on the Virginia Bar Association Joint ADR Council (2015 Chair), and served for several years on the Governor of Virginia’s Interagency Dispute Resolution Council. Ms. King currently serves as a board member of the Virginia State Bar Disciplinary Board by appointment of the Virginia Supreme Court and has been active with the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Hispanic Women in Business as well. Se habla espanol.

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