Understanding Equitable Distribution in Divorce
If you are considering divorce, the team at Snyder Sarno D'Aniello Maceri & da Costa LLC can help you understand equitable distribution laws in New Jersey. We will work on your behalf to ensure that you receive your fair share during what is often an emotional and complicated legal process.
What is Equitable Distribution?
Equitable distribution is one of two systems used to divide property in the instance of divorce in the U.S. When property is distributed equitably, rather than equally (fifty-fifty), the judge takes into account each spouse’s current and future financial situation.
Legally, property includes land, houses and apartments, possessions, and debts. The standard for how much each spouse receives in an equitable distribution of property is very loose: on average, two-thirds of marital property goes to the higher wage earner and one-third to the other, although this is not a hard and fast rule. Much is left to the judge’s discretion.
Legal property division of any kind should not be a divorcing couple’s first option. Spouses should always try to work out distribution before going to court, either on their own or with attorneys.
How Does Equitable Distribution Differ from Community Property?
Community property is the other, less common system used to divide property in a divorce: rather than factoring in each spouse’s financial situation and future earning ability, the court splits marital property equally. While this is a faster system, in terms of precision it might be best likened to a blunt instrument as opposed to a fine-tuned calibration. To rectify such imprecision, states which implement community property laws consider myriad factors when determining alimony or child support awards.
Factors Considered in Equitable Distribution
Because equitable distribution is intended to reflect the financial situation of each spouse, many factors are taken into consideration, both objective and disciplinary:
- Length of the marriage
- Age and relative health of each spouse
- Primary responsibility of children
- “Wasting” or “spending” of marital property by one spouse
- Extent of separate property
Determining separate property, in particular, may be complicated. While equitable distribution divides only the marital property, any separate property that either spouse possesses can affect how much marital property each receives. Separate property includes any property acquired before a marriage. For instance, if one spouse bought an apartment before getting married, that apartment still belongs to him or her alone during the marriage, unless ownership is revised or transferred.
While most property gained during marriage is considered marital property, there are a few exceptions that can be proven in court:
- Gifts from a third party
- Property established as separate by mutual agreement
- Property acquired with assets owned prior to marriage
Property acquired with assets held before marriage may vary greatly. For instance, if a spouse who owns an apartment separately sells the apartment and uses that money to purchase stocks, the stocks are considered separate property.
Property Division as a Last Resort
Legal property division of any kind should not be a divorcing couple’s first option. Spouses should always try to work out distribution before going to court, either on their own or with attorneys. Leaving a judge to determine who gets what is not only more difficult, but also less satisfying, as both parties are often dissatisfied with the outcome.
Resolving property division outside of court is typically a much more advantageous option. In some cases, a couple may divide a portion of their estate, and then leave the rest for a judge to determine.
Contact Us Today
The lawyers at Snyder Sarno D'Aniello Maceri & da Costa LLC are dedicated to ensuring their clients’ fair treatment during matrimonial disputes. Reach out today to schedule a consultation with a legal professional who is well-versed in divorce law and committed to your financial well-being. For more general information on family law, divorce, and other related fields, please take a look at our blog and articles available on our website.
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