“Equitable Distribution” is the fancy legal term for the asset and debt division that occurs in a divorce. Please be aware that an “equitable division” is not necessarily the same thing as an “equal division.”
Another word for “equitable” is fair. The court will divide your assets and debts in a manner that it thinks is fair under the circumstances of your case. Very often, this involves a 50/50 (or equal) division of assets and debts – but not always.
When determining what it thinks is a fair distribution of marital assets and debts, the court will consider the following:
- the contributions of each spouse – including the work done as a homemaker
- the length of the marriage
- the financial situation of both spouses
- whether a spouse contributed toward career or educational opportunities
- the desirability of keeping the marital home (i.e. the impact on children)
- whether income (or debt) is produced
In many cases, the parties agree that there will be a 50/50 split of assets and debt. However, problems arise when the parties cannot agree on what will be in their half. Usually a mediation can sort out these differences, but the Court will decide on the division if the parties are unable.
Also of great importance is the fact that the court will only make an equitable distribution of marital property. So, what is marital property? Marital property is property acquired during the marriage (with a few exceptions). Property acquired prior to the marriage is called non-marital property. Property can initially be non-marital and eventually become marital.
For example, if you receive an inheritance from your parents prior to your marriage, that money would be considered non-marital on the date of your marriage. However, if you and your spouse put other funds in the account (i.e. employment income or other gifts), the original inheritance could lose its status as non-marital. In my experience, the determination of whether an asset is marital or non-marital is (along with child custody) a major reason for prolonged litigation.
There are many rules and legal doctrines that apply to equitable distribution. Please consult with an experienced Jacksonville Equitable Distribution Lawyer for more information on your specific situation.