Understanding equitable distribution

Before separating couples can fairly divide their assets, property must be categorized, individual factors must be determined and assets must be evaluated.

When divorcing couples hear that Missouri is an equitable distribution state, they may assume that their assets will be divided equally. However, equitable actually refers to fair. 50/50 is not always deemed as the fair division of property. Having a better understanding of equitable distribution may help people going through a divorce know what to expect from their property division.

Categorizing property

The property of a married couple can be divided into two distinct categories. The first is separate property. These are assets that belong solely to one person. Separate property may have been purchased before the marriage or with money that was never part of the family funds. These possessions are usually kept by the spouse who owned them.

The other category is marital property. Marital property is anything earned or purchased during the marriage. In some cases, individual property may lose its separation during the course of the relationship. For example, if a man buys a house while he is single, it could still be categorized as a community asset if the husband and wife lived in it. In other words, marital property can encompass assets earned before marriage if they are pooled together with other resources.

Determining factors

Courts consider a variety of factors when determining what type of division is fair. For example, the role each spouse had in the marriage may affect what they are entitled to. A stay-at-home dad did not earn as much as a working mom, so he might receive a smaller portion of the funds up front. However, he could be entitled to alimony for a set period of time after the divorce. Other factors that help determine the division of possessions includes the following:

  • Potential earning capabilities
  • Health statuses
  • Child custody agreements

Even the length of the marriage could affect what makes property division equitable. Often anyone tasked with splitting up marital property looks at the standard of living the couple had during the marriage to figure out how best to split up the assets.

Valuating assets

Before the property can be divided by two separating spouses, each party has to understand what the goods are worth. Often assessors are hired to determine the monetary value of certain possessions, including real estate, vehicles and other physical goods. Once these values have been assigned, it is easier for mediators and judges to understand what type of division is fair.

In Missouri and other equitable distribution states, the division of assets can be a complicated affair. Because of the complexity of the situation, it may be beneficial for anyone going through a divorce to work with an attorney who is familiar with this type of family law case.