Equitable distribution can be put as simply as: anything that is acquired during the marriage, whether it is an asset or liability is considered marital and should be equitably distributed by the Court.
The first step in the equitable distribution process is determining what is marital vs. what is non-marital. If an asset or liability was acquired during the marriage, does it automatically become marital in nature? The answer is, not necessarily. For example, an inheritance received by one party during the marriage does not automatically become marital in nature. If the receiving party, thereafter commingles their inheritance with marital property, that inheritance then can become marital property subject to equitable distribution. Once all the assets and liabilities are labeled as marital or non-marital, it is time for the Court to distribute the assets and liabilities.
Typically, the presumption is that the marital property will be divided equally, but the court may order the marital property to be divided unequally so long as the result is equitable in nature. The factors the Courts analyze in awarding equitable distribution are:
- The contribution to the marriage by each spouse (including contributions to the care and education of the children and services as homemaker;
- The economic circumstances of the parties;
- The duration of the marriage;
- Any interruption of personal careers or educational opportunities of either party;
- The contribution of one spouse or the personal career or educational opportunity of the other spouse;
- The desirability of retaining any asset, including an interest in a business or professional practice, intact and free from any claim or interference by the other party;
- The contribution of each spouse to the acquisition, enhancement, and production of income or the improvement of, or the incurring of liabilities to, both the martial assets and the non-marital assets of the parties;
- The desirability of retaining the marital home as a residence for any dependent child of the marriage;
- The intentional dissipation, waste, depletion, or destruction of marital assets during the marriage; and
- Any other factors necessary to do equity and justice between the parties.