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Equitable vs Equal Property Distribution: What’s the Difference?

Couples filing for divorce in Virginia must negotiate and settle several issues, including child support, parenting time, alimony, and property division. Virginia is an equitable division of property state and distributes property after considering several factors surrounding the divorce case. But “equitable” does not necessarily mean “equal,” and understanding this difference can be critical to reaching a fair divorce settlement.

Distributing property that a couple has amassed throughout a marriage can be daunting, especially when spouses have emotional ties to certain items or the distinction between marital property and separate property is unclear. In some cases, the dispute between who gets what can get heated. A skilled Virginia divorce attorney can help you understand how property division laws will apply to your case and assist in negotiating a divorce settlement that is in your best interests.

What is Meant by “Equitable” Distribution?

Virginia follows an equitable distribution model of property division. Under this model, marital property is divided in a fair and reasonable manner rather than split exactly in half as it would be in a community property state. The court-appointed judge over the case can use their discretion to determine the division of property and assets. The judge may consider several factors before making this crucial decision and finalizing it in the divorce settlement. These factors may include: 

  • Each spouse’s contributions to the marriage or family home. For example, the judge may look at whether one spouse put their job or education on hold to contribute to the other spouse’s education and/or career status. 
  • Whether each spouse contributed to the acquisition of the property or its upkeep
  • The length of the marriage
  • Whether either party has obligations stemming from a prior marriage
  • Each party’s financial status, occupation, age, health, ability to find employment and liabilities
  • Whether there are children involved in the divorce
  • The tax consequences of the property and/or assets
  • Any other factors deemed relevant to the case

Separate vs. Marital Property

Not all property is considered eligible for division in a divorce settlement. Separate property includes any property a spouse owned before the marriage, as well as a gift or inheritance given to a spouse by a third party before or during the marriage. If, however, the property is retitled to include the other spouse’s name or the separate assets are mixed in with marital assets, the property and/or assets may become marital. Marital assets, on the other hand, encompass everything that was acquired during the marriage. This includes insurance policies, 401K plans, vacation homes, golf club memberships, travel rewards points, and even expensive collections. If you need help determining what is considered marital and separate property in your case, consult an experienced Virginia divorce attorney.

A Knowledgeable Family Attorney Can Help

When going through a divorce, it may be extremely difficult to think about making crucial decisions that will affect the rest of your life. A divorce lawyer can help you navigate these issues with greater peace of mind, allowing you to focus on your family.

Contact an experienced Virginia divorce attorney about your legal rights and options when filing for divorce. A lawyer can help you identify realistic goals for property division and help you get what you are entitled to in the divorce settlement.