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What is Equitable Distribution?

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What is Equitable Distribution?

In a divorce or legal separation, the court may need to make specific rulings regarding the division of property.  In many cases, this is done according to traditional rules that separate the distribution according to separate and shared property.  That is, the parties will typically keep their own separate property while splitting the shared property accumulated during their marriage.

In some cases, this type of property distribution is not always accurate or favorable.  For instance, it can sometimes be difficult to tell who owned which assets during the course of the marriage.  In such cases, the court may apply equitable distribution principles rather than more traditional rules.   Equitable distribution utilizes a variety of factors to determine the best way to distribute property during a divorce.

What are Some Factors Used in Equitable Distribution?

Equitable distribution determinations may be done on a case-by-case basis and will depend on the individual facts of each case.  These may include:

  • The financial and employment background of each party
  • Each party’s age, health, skills, and other characteristics
  • The overall profile of each person’s estate, and the marriage estate
  • Whether either party has any special needs, such as a medical condition
  • Whether the party has any shared bank accounts, benefit plans, or real property
  • Issues related to child custody and child support
  • Whether spousal support will be a factor

Thus, a court will incorporate these aspects and any others that might be related to the distribution of property.  Such principles may also be adapted for similar legal proceedings like a separation or an alimony determination. 

When is Equitable Distribution Applied?

First of all, the availability of an equitable distribution ruling will depend on state rules.  Some jurisdictions strictly apply traditional rules for property distribution in a divorce.  In that case, equitable distribution principles may not be available during the course of the legal proceedings. 

Also, equitable distribution applications should take into consideration any prenuptial agreements or similar legal documents.  These are basically contracts that need to be enforced on their own.  If a prenuptial agreement is place, the court may need to apply the terms contained in the agreement. 

Can Equitable Distribution Rulings Be Contested?

Equitable distribution rulings can sometimes be subject to contestation, especially in clear cases where the court or judge has made an error in calculation.  Divorce proceedings can also involve issues of fraud such as where one spouse hides or conceals assets during trial.  In such cases, the court may need to review some of the decisions made during the hearings. 

Do I Need a Lawyer for Help With Equitable Distribution?

Equitable distribution principles can help make property division fairer during a divorce, but they can also make the process somewhat more complex.  If you need assistance with any family law issues, you may need to hire a qualified lawyer for assistance.  Your attorney can advise you if equitable distribution is ideal for your claim, and if it’s available in your jurisdiction.

Photo of page author Ken LaMance

, LegalMatch Law Library Managing Editor and Attorney at Law

Last Modified: 04-15-2017 06:50 PM PDT

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