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The Divorce Encyclopedia
Equitable Division (Distribution) of Property


Term Definition Equitable Division (Distribution) of Property - a system used in forty-one states and the District of Columbia for dividing property acquired by spouses during their marriage.
Application in Divorce Also called Equitable Distribution, Equitable Assignment.

Equitable doe not mean "equal"; it means that assets acquired during a marriage are subject to distribution. In some jurisdictions, an inheritance -- even one acquired before the marriage, kept only in the name of the beneficiary and never used for family purposes -- could be subject to equitable distribution. An equitable distribution of property may result in the marital home going to a mother with small children even when that division of property is not exactly equal in dollar value with other property awarded to the father. Sometimes a portion of the appreciation in an asset that came to one spouse before the marriage -- for example, stock -- may be subject to distribution.

Usually in this routine, a spouse remains the sole owner of his or her earned income.

Like Dual Classification and Kitchen State marital estates, the laws on equitable distribution differ from one jurisdiction to the other.

Each state sets forth mandatory factors a judge must consider in making an equitable distribution. Mandatory factors in most states include 1) the length of marriage, 2) the age, health, occupation of the parties, 3) station in life and lifestyle of the spouses, 4) liabilities and needs, 5) tangible and intangible contributions of the parties to the marriage, 6) assets and liabilities, sources and amounts of income, 7) behavior the parties during the marriage, and 8) vocational skills and employability.

Some states also permit a judge to consider discretionary factors.

Even when one spouses owns a great amount of separate property in his or her own right, equitable distribution does not limit his or her claims to the marital estate. Equitable distribution works from an assumption that the marriage is an economic unit and that what the spouse acquired during the marriage is subject to distribution -- regardless of need.

Compare Community Property.

See also Dual Classification; Kitchen Sink State.

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