Equitable distribution is a method for dividing marital property during a divorce that takes into account what each spouse contributed to the marriage and what each spouse will need to move forward. An equitable property division is one that is fair, but not necessarily equal. Most common law states follow equitable distribution rules. New Jersey is one of these states. Other states follow community property rules, which generally require a 50-50 equal division of marital (or "community") property.
Equitable distribution in New Jersey applies only to marital assets and marital debts. This means (with limited exceptions) all assets and debts acquired by either or both spouses during the marriage. The Courts also recognize that marriage is a partnership, and non-monetary contributions to property, such as a homemaker or a stay-at-home parent, are generally valued equally with monetary contributions. Individual gifts from people other than the spouse, inherited assets, and assets and debts either spouse brings into a marriage, are generally considered to be separate property. These are generally not subject to equitable distribution.
As outlined in N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23.1, New Jersey judges can consider a long list of statutory factors in deciding what constitutes an equitable distribution, including how long the marriage lasted, marital standard of living, and each spouse's age, health, and ability to maintain a reasonably comparable standard of living.
By law, NJ judges may also consider any factor that is relevant to the circumstances of an individual case. However, one thing not normally considered relevant is marital fault (such as adultery) unless it's proven that one spouse clearly wasted or "dissipated" marital assets, or otherwise engaged in obviously egregious financial behavior.
Bari Zell-Weinberger is a Certified New Jersey divorce lawyer and partner with the firm of Weinberger Divorce & Family Law Group, LLC. in Parsippany, New Jersey, where she exclusively practices family and matrimonial law. View her online Divorce Magazine profile.