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What Equitable Distribution Really Means


Equitable distribution is the division of property rights that occurs during a divorce proceeding. It also includes debt obligations. Equitable refers to the fairness of the division, as opposed to the equality of it. Courts consider a variety of factors when determining what it is deemed equitable, including the current and future financial situations of each spouse.

Equitable distribution includes only marital property, though separate property might be taken into account during the courts decision. For instance, if a couple owns a home together, and one spouse also owns a home on his or her own, the second home might be considered when determining division of ownership of the marital home. Typically, when one spouse has a significant amount of value in separate property, the other spouse will receive more in the equitable distribution.

What is Considered Marital Property?

In most circumstances all property that is not separate property is considered marital property. Any property acquired during marriage is marital property, unless legally proven otherwise. For instance, if a spouse were to sell a piece of separate property during marriage and use the proceeds to purchase property during the marriage, he or she would be required to show documentation of the original sale of separate property to prove the property in question was purchased with separate funds.

Additional Considerations of Equitable Distribution

In addition to whether property is marital or separate when determining equitable distribution, courts also take into account:

  • Duration of the marriage
  • Age and health of each spouse
  • Earning power of each spouse
  • Value of each spouse’s contribution to the marriage
  • Custody arrangement
  • Wasteful dissipation of assets

Is Equitable Distribution the Only Option?

No. Many couples are able to allocate property without the court. Spouses have the option of dividing property any way they choose, but both parties must agree to the final arrangement. Equitable distribution through a court trial sometimes results in an arrangement that makes both spouses unhappy, so it should be viewed as the last resort. Additionally, it is possible for spouses to reach an agreement of their own regarding a portion of marital property and turn to the court for the remainder of the assets.

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