The division of assets acquired by the parties during marriage is called “Equitable Distribution.” What this means, is that the Court has to award property accumulated by the parties during the marriage in a manner relative to the contributions of each spouse during the marriage toward the accumulation of the marital assets. This is a very broad concept, and the language is a little vague. This was purposely done by the legislature in crafting the specific language defining equitable distribution.
The Court views the marriage as a “marital partnership.” At the time of divorce, there is, in effect, a dissolution of that partnership and the assets and liabilities have to be split between the parties in an equitable or “fair” fashion. This does not necessarily mean that it will be an equal split between the parties, due to the fact that the law governing the distribution of assets and liabilities contains numerous factors that a court must consider in splitting these items.
The law says that the Court must look at the following factors in determining the distribution of assets and liabilities (this is not an all inclusive list): the length of the marriage; the health of the parties; the property that each party brought to the marriage; the standard of living established during the marriage; any pre-nuptial agreement the parties entered into prior to the marriage; the income and earning capacity of the parties, contributions of the parties towards either the other’s education and training or the acquisition/dissipation of any marital property the custodial arrangements reached (if there are children); and any other factor that the Court deems relevant.
Application of all of these factors will cause the Court to reach a fair distribution. As a general proposition, if there is a long term marriage, the Court will generally split the parties’ assets and liabilities in an equal fashion. But based upon the above factors, it is only one item that the Court has to look at. For shorter duration marriages, the Court must scrutinize all of the factors in order to not end up with an equitable distribution allocation that provides to one party an unnecessary windfall at the expense of the other.
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.