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What does equitable distribution mean during a Virginia divorce?

On Behalf of | Dec 13, 2023 | Family Law

Some divorcing couples in Virginia can settle their disagreements with one another amicably. Others may need to take certain issues to court. A family law judge in Virginia has the legal authority to divide both the assets and debts belonging to the divorcing couple.

Every divorce case is subject to unique considerations, and a judge has some discretion when deciding what should happen with marital property. They should do their best to comply with Virginia’s equitable distribution statute. Some people misunderstand the concept of equitable distribution and may develop unrealistic expectations about Virginia divorce proceedings as a result.

What do equitable distribution rules mean for property division during a litigated divorce?

There are no guarantees about the outcome

Some people find the term equitable distribution misleading because they misunderstand what equitable means. An equitable distribution of resources is not the same thing as an even or equal split of marital assets. The judge does not simply divide reported assets in half during equitable distribution proceedings. Instead, a judge must try to decide what is just or fair based on the circumstances of the marriage. They have the authority to award assets to one spouse or make them responsible for certain debts.

When deciding how to split responsibilities and resources, a judge must consider many factors. The current income of each spouse and their separate property can influence what a judge believes would be fair. Judges may also sometimes consider the division of parental responsibilities if there are still minors dependent on the adults in the family.

The health of the spouses can also be a consideration. Judges can look at the length of the marriage and the unpaid and economic contributions each spouse made to the marital estate. Earning money is obviously an important consideration, but so are the unpaid services spouses often provide to the family, sometimes at the expense of their own earning potential.

Ultimately, equitable distribution rules mean that a judge’s opinion of marital circumstances guides property division during a litigated process. The only way to eliminate the uncertainty that comes from having a judge enter a ruling based on marital circumstances is to negotiate a settlement instead of going to court. Spouses almost always have the option of setting their own property division terms if they can reach an agreement with one another.

Learning more about the Virginia laws that guide divorce proceedings may help people plan an effective strategy when addressing marital financial matters.