Division of Property in a Divorce: Is Equitable Distribution More Equitable?

division property usa divorce(US family law) One of the first things a couple in the process of divorce will need to know is if the state you live in is a community property state or an equitable distribution state. A community property state allows for all of the property acquired during the marriage to be, loosely speaking, divided in half. An equitable distribution state differs in that it aims to provide a fair and balanced approach based on many different facts about the marriage and both parties.

Not mandating equal split of the assets, but rather an informed and possibly unequal distribution can be the best way to decide these issues in some cases, which is why some most states practice equitable distribution instead of community property. Your divorce attorney should help you understand how the law works in your area, whether you live in a community property or equitable distribution state.

Community Property

Community property states include Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin. Alaska allows couples to opt in for community property, and Puerto Rico is also considered community property jurisdiction. For couples who get married in a Community Property State, whatever they earn or acquire during the marriage is co-owned equally by both husband and wife, and will therefore be split up equally in the event that the marriage dissolves.

The only exemption to this equal split is property inherited by one party, which would stay with that party completely in the event of a divorce.

The principle behind community property states lies in the collective family unit.

While two people are married, the fruit of their labors should go toward bettering the family unit, a community pool that exists for this very reason. In this sense, the community property states do have a valid argument. Let’s examine the typical scenario that some people might think of in the event of marriage dissolution.

Consider Bob and Sally

Imagine a husband Bob with a high paying job; he is the primary financial provider. Imagine the wife Sally also has a good job, but she only works part time due to the care she provides their one year old son Bobby Jr. Sally not only spends quality time taking care of Jr., she also cooks, cleans and acts as a sort of assistant to the ever forgetful Bob. If, over the course of the marriage, Bob manages to pay off his mortgage and save some money for a total asset value one million dollars. Suppose Sally was only able to contribute 30,000 to savings over the years. What little money she made she spent on clothes and entertainment, but it didn’t matter much to the family at the time because Bob was making more than enough for the both of them. Bob really appreciated the “feminine touch” Sally brought to the house, the home cooked meals and that Bobby Jr. didn’t have to spend most of his time daycare being raised by some stranger.

Many people argue that because Bob and Sally were working as a team for the good of their family, Bob would not have been able to be where he is today without Sally’s many contributions to the family, and there is just no way to put a price tag on that. With that mindset, it should make sense to just split everything in half right? Since Bob’s and Sally’s assets equal one million dollars plus the 30,000, they both should receive $515,000. This is what would most likely occur in a community property state.

This can also be seen as very unreasonable, it really can’t be that hard to figure out that “price tag” to put on Sally’s contributions.

Equitable distribution

Equitable distribution is all about finding a more balanced division of assets based on many factors. Many things enter into the equation such as how long the marriage lasted, what the established standard of living was, and the value of childcare and homemaking that each party contributed. Even whether one party invested in the other’s education or training, and the age, health, income or future earning capacity of both parties should be considered when trying to divide property. The goal here is not to split assets and debts directly down the middle and have Bob and Sally go their separate ways, the goal is to figure out what is most unbiased and fair distribution of property considering the circumstances.

Florida, for example, is an equitable distribution state so the outcome of the divorce might be somewhat different than both receiving $515,000. The court will start at that number (equal halves) and then perfect it based on the many factors stated above. Perhaps Sally would receive a little less, but it will be her equitable share. Sally may get the home to raise Bobby Jr. in until he grows up since she has put so much effort into making the house a home, and being there for Bobby Jr. as he grows.

Florida is also a “no fault” state, meaning that the division of property is not affected by the fact that either party has been unfaithful. It would be a mistake for Sally to assume that Bob’s affair would get her more property than him in the divorce proceedings. A divorce attorney  should be contacted should you have any queries.

There are a lot of factors to consider in the division of property, but ultimately each equitable distribution case will be different.

5 Things to Consider When Choosing a Divorce Attorney

(US family/divorce law & general tips) Most of us would agree that “things” have gone wrong long before you realize you must look for and pick a divorce attorney. Whatever is wrong with your marriage did not sneak up on you – it has been in the works for years. But you probably did not get much warning before the emergency alarm bells started to ring in your head. You may have discovered your spouse was cheating on you. Or one of you may have moved out of the marital home.  The most clear-cut emergency alarm bell may have taken the form of a process server appearing at your door.

Whatever the case, you fell into a situation where you had to pick a divorce attorney really fast.  That means you must make one of the most expensive, critical, and life-changing purchases in your entire life, and you must do it really fast. That is not the best of combinations to face. But if you follow this quick list you will find the decision a bit easier:

1.  You have 20 days to respond to the petition if you have been served. 

This timeline could vary in different states. Normally the time to respond is on the court summons.  What many people do not initially know is that a response can be put together and filed by an attorney in one day. Most responses are not a big deal. They usually consist of boilerplate provisions and are easy to bang out. So that means you have more time to pick an attorney than you think.  Don’t rush out and hire an attorney in one day. This is way too important a decision to make in a dire rush.

2. Do not call around for pricing and make a decision solely based on price.

There is an old saying: “statistics don’t lie, but liars use statistics.”  For this discussion we can modify that saying: “prices don’t lie, but liars use prices.” Understanding divorce attorney prices can be very difficult because most of the tactics regarding pricing will always be invisible. For example, you may find out the attorney that bills $100/hour is more expensive than the attorney with a billing rate of $300/hour. It all comes down to billing practices in that particular law office. One attorney might take four hours to draft your initial documents where another attorney takes one hour.  Another example is where attorneys quote their initial retainer. An unusually low retainer might be “burned up” in the first two weeks of the case.  A good attorney quotes a retainer that will cover a significant part of the case. That retainer should have some chance of covering your case through the end of mediation.  Most cases end shortly after mediation. So a realistic retainer should be designed to possibly reach that goal.

3. Carefully examine the appearance of the attorney’s office.

Not all attorneys have an office in Trump Towers. But any office should be reasonably neat and organized in appearance. Are there stacks of papers all over the office? Does the office equipment appear to be held together with duct tape? Does the attorney have personal pictures or other personal items in the office that show a long-term presence?   A disorganized office usually means a disorganized case.  Take the hint when the attorney’s office is a complete disaster.

4. Is your prospective attorney willing to give real answers to real questions in the first meeting?

A good attorney never uses mystery and fact spinning to get your business. They are proud to show off their expertise. Giving good answers to potential clients is a way of showing there is more expertise available in the same person. Try not to waste the attorney’s time – but you should have some expectation of good answers for your initial questions. Attorneys that do nothing but sell themselves are a red flag.

5. Did the attorney promise specific results?

If they did promise results, this is a big red flag.  Most state Bar associations prohibit promises of specific results. And the fact is that judges make decisions, not attorneys.  Besides, wouldn’t it be silly for the attorneys on both sides to promise completely opposite results? How could they ever both be right?  A good attorney will tell you the chances of success and then explain several possible scenarios based on your individual facts.

A good attorney will tell it like it is. Their pricing is transparent, ethical, and oriented toward the benefit of the client. They will show you their best in the initial interview and then continue to prove they are the correct pick by conducting an organized, cost-efficient case. Never make your decision on a moment’s notice. For a life-changing event, you must carefully choose who will best help you achieve your goals.  Make sure you follow these easy steps and you will soon be on your way to a new life and continued happiness.