No, equitable distribution of marital and non-marital assets is not the same as equal distribution. Equal distribution states, known as community property states include California, Louisiana, New Mexico, Washington, Arizona, Idaho, Nevada, Texas, Wisconsin, and by agreement of both parties, Alaska. All other states distribute marital assets using the term “equitable” which, in legal terms, means “fair” distribution of assets. (Debts are also termed marital and non-marital and will be distributed equally or equitably according to the parties state of residence). The actual fairness of the distribution will depend on if a couple can negotiate their own equitable distribution through the mediation process, required in Florida, for example, or if a judge must use his or her interpretation of what will be fair for each party, particularly when looking into the past for who contributed what to the marriage and into the future for how each party will continue to manage as a single, now responsible for their own welfare.
Non-marital assets include all property, real and otherwise which a party obtained before the marriage took place. For example property such as a home, high-end furniture or electronics, valuable jewelry, and/or a vehicle, if completely paid for by a party prior to his or her marriage would be termed non-marital and be retained by that party. Also property real or otherwise, if sold during the marriage could provide profit belonging to the owning party to be used at his or her discretion. An inheritance or specific gift can also be termed non-marital. Substantial proof of the pre-marital ownership or post-marital acquisition of all non-marital assets will be required before the actual acceptance of an asset as non-marital.
Marital assets are all property and items accumulated and/or purchased during the marriage. Monies earned during the marriage are also looked at to determine what each party has contributed to the welfare of the union. It is important to understand that, for example, a woman or man who has stayed home to care for home and children will have their years of non-monetary work be given a value which will compute into dollars when figuring the actual equitable distribution. The lifestyle of the family and how each party will be able to continue following the final judgment will also be a factor when a judge decides the final distribution. Remember, “fair” is the keyword is making an equitable distribution. Length of the marriage, the parties economic situation, contributions to the education or career or the other party, the need to keep an asset such as a business or family heirloom, severe waste of assets during 2 years prior to filing, and the wisdom of retaining the marital home, particularly if minor children are involved are all considerations when determining equitable distribution. A complete list of considerations for equitable distribution of marital assets and debts in the state of Florida can be found in Florida Statute 61.075.
As can be easily seen, the whole issue of determining marital versus non-marital and equitable distribution involve a whole maze of considerations. An experienced legal professional will be able to help his or her client sort out the many in and outs, as well as help collect the necessary proofs needed. And finally, if you are serious about a dissolution of your marriage, try to the best of your ability to work out your final agreement during your meditation when you and your spouse can determine the equitable distribution for yourselves. A lot of feelings can be hurt when a judge is the one to tell you what you can and cannot keep. Finally, if the equitable distribution decided on during mediation is extremely one-sided a judge can refuse to sign the final order, so be fair, “equitable” and all will benefit.