Equitable property distribution is the means by which property and assets are divided when a couple divorces. Equitable does not necessarily mean equal, but often times it does end up being an equal division of things accumulated during the marriage.
The intention is to make the division fair for everyone involved, which usually means equal division unless there is a reason for it to be unequal. Keep in mind, not only are assets and property divided equitably, so are debts.
The alternative to equitable distribution is community property distribution. This means that everything is exactly divided in half without regard to fairness or any other factor.
Most states, including Florida, use equitable distribution as a means for dealing with marital property. (Equitable distribution is defined based on Fl. Stat. 61.075)
What Property is Marital Property?
The key to figuring out what will be divided and what won’t be divided is to first determine what is considered marital property.
Marital property is property (including assets, debts, and real property) acquired during the course of the marriage. Property that was owned prior to the marriage is considered non-marital or separate property, as is any property that was received as a gift during the marriage.
In addition to the property itself, any increase in value during the course of the marriage is also considered marital property. For example, interest-bearing accounts, stock market investments, or real estate that increases in value would be split equitably based on its current-day value, as opposed to the original value.
How Is Marital Property Divided
If a couple is able to decide on a method of distribution on their own, the court generally upholds these agreements, as long as they are in writing and both people agreed to the distribution based on sound legal advice.
When divorcing couples are unable to reach an agreement, property is distributed based on the decision of the court or an arbitrator. In most cases, the division is equal, but unequal divisions are perfectly legal and can be based on a few factors:
- Marriage length
- Current income situation for each spouse
- Whether or not the couple’s children need to remain in the family home
- Contributions of each spouse during the marriage, including those directly related to assets and those related to the marriage
- If either spouse contributed to the other’s education or career at his or her own detriment
- Current debts and liabilities of each spouse
- Whether money or assets were squandered or destroyed
In some instances, it might be difficult to divide an asset, so the court will look for other ways to balance the distribution. There might also be instances in which the division is delayed, which is often the case when there is a marital home in question and minor children are living in the marital home. The court might order the couple to sell the home at a future date and divide the proceeds at that time.
When it comes to debts, similar rules apply concerning its division, but the court typically assigns one spouse the responsibility of actually paying the debt. This is assuming the debt was not acquired through reckless spending, in which case the spouse responsible for running up the debt will likely be given full responsibility for paying it alone.
The distribution and division of property are often one of the most challenging aspects of ending a marriage. Even couples involved in an otherwise non-contentious divorce might find they need some guidance when it comes to property distribution.
Working with an Experienced Divorce Attorney
If you need assistance with equitable property distribution during your divorce, our team can help. Our primary legal focus is Florida Family Law, but Mr. Jentis, Esq. also remains active in both the New Jersey and New York Bars. Our team has assisted clients with their divorces, including issues related to property distribution, and we are familiar with laws regarding divorce in all three states.
For more information about equitable property distribution or to learn how you can move forward with your legal matter, please contact us at one of the numbers above to schedule a consultation. We provide in-depth consultations for a nominal fee that can help you understand your legal rights and to provide you with various options you may have available to you to address your concerns.