It is common for a divorcing couples to decide about dividing their property and debts themselves (with or without the help of a neutral third party like a mediator), rather than leave it for the judge to decide. If however, a couple cannot agree, they can submit their property dispute to the court, which will use state law to divide the property.
Division of property does not necessarily mean a physical division. Rather, the court may award each spouse a percentage of the total value of the property. (It is illegal for either spouse to hide assets in order to shield them from property division.) Each spouse will get personal property, assets, and debts the total net worth of which add up to his or her percentage.
Courts divide property under one of two basic schemes: community property or equitable distribution. Community debts are divided according to the same principles.
- Community property. In Alaska, Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington,Wisconsin and Puerto Rico, all property of a married person is classified as either community property (owned equally by both spouses) or the separate property of one spouse. At divorce, community property is generally divided equally between the spouses, while each spouse keeps his or her separate property.
- Equitable distribution. Assets and earnings accumulated during marriage are divided equitably (fairly). In practice, often two-thirds of the assets go to the higher wage earner and one-third to the other spouse. Equitable distribution principles are followed everywhere except the community property states listed above.
Copyright 2005 Nolo