April 7, 2016

Monthly Misconception for April – “Equitable Distribution” Doesn’t Necessarily Mean “Equal”

My initial meeting with a potential client gives us both a good chance to get to know each other and to explore whether we’d make a good team going forward. It’s also a chance for me to learn what the client thinks he or she knows about divorce law.

Unfortunately, more often than not, my job right at the start is to correct the client’s legal misconceptions.  Sometimes he or she has been improperly advised by well-meaning but uneducated family members and friends, relying on their own divorce experiences.   Other times, the potential client is relying upon information posted on an unreliable web site, perhaps by a lawyer whose divorce experience is limited to a class taken in law school years ago in another state.

Read further as I set the record straight with regard to one of the most common divorce misconceptions – that, as some people say, “Connecticut is a 50%-50% state.  So we just need to divide up each one of our assets in half.”

To be technical, Connecticut is an equitable distribution state.  But what that means to divorcing people is more important than the term itself.

First, “equitable” doesn’t necessarily mean equal or require a 50%-50% division of assets between two divorcing spouses. Instead, think of equitable as meaning fair in light of all the circumstances after applying some common sense.  So while equal might be equitable in some situations, in others, an equal division of property might be unfair.

Second, the law gives guidance to judges, lawyers and divorcing people about how to figure out what is an “equitable” division of assets.  The law does this by providing a list of factors to be considered in each divorce case.

  • Length of the marriage
  • Causes for the dissolution of the marriage
  • Age, health, station, occupation, amount and sources of income, earning capacity, vocational skills, education, employability, estate and needs of each of the spouses
  • Liabilities of each spouse
  • Opportunity for each spouse for future acquisition of capital assets and income
  • Contribution of each spouse in the acquisition, preservation or appreciation in value of their respective estates

Third, an equitable distribution includes an allocation between divorcing spouses of their debts as well as their assets and property.

 The bottom line then is when dividing assets and debts as part of a divorce, there is no automatic 50%-50% rule in Connecticut, even in a long term marriage.  Yes, assets and debts are often divided equally between divorcing spouses.  But often they aren’t and an unequal division may be equitable and make a lot more sense than an arbitrary 50%-50% division.

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