What is Equitable Distribution?

G. Wiesen

Equitable distribution is a term typically used in family law to indicate the division of property and money between two parties during a divorce. This does not necessarily indicate a straight 50/50 split of money, property, and other resources, as various outside factors can affect the decision by a court regarding the allocation of property during a divorce. Equitable distribution usually governs both material goods and financial holdings, and can often be used to redress grievances by one party in a divorce toward the other.

Couples who cannot communicate often end up depending on litigation to reach a settlement for equitable distribution.
Couples who cannot communicate often end up depending on litigation to reach a settlement for equitable distribution.

When a marriage comes to an end with a legal divorce, equitable distribution is typically used according to state or federal laws, depending on the region, to give both parties adequate reparations and holdings from the union. This typically takes the form of splitting money, property, and land, as well as any other financial or material claims held by the couple during their marriage. A prenuptial agreement can have an impact on the equitable distribution of property and money during a divorce, depending on the provisions of any such agreement.

Some couples enter into prenuptial agreements in order to sort out issues of equitable distribution.
Some couples enter into prenuptial agreements in order to sort out issues of equitable distribution.

Equitable distribution, despite what the name may suggest, is not necessarily an “equal” split of half of everything going to one person and half going to the other. There can be a number of factors that affect the division of assets, including any wrongs committed leading to the divorce, child custody, expected inheritances, and future earning potential. In a divorce that results from infidelity by one party in the marriage, the wronged person may receive more of the assets from their marriage as a way of attempting to redress the wrong committed by the other person.

If there are children involved in the divorce proceedings, then equitable distribution may indicate that the parent who receives the children, depending on custody hearings, receives more of the money and property held by the couple prior to divorce. This is usually established during the divorce proceedings, and can be amicable or the source of great debate and animosity. If one of the two parties separating is expecting any sizable inheritances in the near future, then this future income can be considered during the divorce hearing as well.

Future earning potential can also have an impact on equitable distribution during a divorce, since one person may have relied on the other for financial support during the marriage. This can often also have an impact on alimony and child support amounts that must be paid by one party to the other following the divorce. The division of money and property is typically intended to be equitable in the sense of being “fair” rather than numerically “equal.”

Infidelity is a common cause of divorce in many countries.
Infidelity is a common cause of divorce in many countries.

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