Equitable Distribution and Divorce in New Jersey
When going through a divorce, it is crucial to understand how marital assets are divided so that each party can determine what he or she believes is fair and does not have any regrets when the proceedings are finalized.
The process of distributing marital assets in New Jersey is often called
Equitable Distribution. The parties themselves can decide how to divide the assets, but if they cannot do so, a judge will make the decision for them. It is important to note that in the legal context, equitable does not necessarily mean equal.
Property Included in Equitable Distribution
Equitable distribution in New Jersey is applicable only to property that was acquired during the marriage, specifically from the date of the marriage to the date that the divorce complaint was filed. Therefore, if one party owned a house prior to the marriage, the other party is not eligible for a portion of the
entire value of the home, but rather only any increased value that has accrued since the origin of the marriage.
Marital property includes: personal property; pensions; debts acquired during the marriage; and real property.
How Courts Handle Equitable Distribution
In general, a judge must do the following: 1) decide which property is marital property, 2) assess the value of each piece of property and 3) determine how the property will be split between the parties.
Determining how the property will be divided is contingent upon consideration of a variety of factors. A judge’s decision will likely consider many of the following:
- Written agreements between the parties concerning property distribution
- The length of the marriage
- The income and/or property with which each party came into the marriage
- The current economic status of the parties
- The age and emotional and physical health of the parties
- The custodial parent’s need to own or occupy the parties’ house and to use or own other household items
- Expected future medical or educational costs for a spouse or child
- Any other factors the judge deems relevant
- Debts: Generally, both parties are liable for debts accrued during the marriage. However, it might be possible for one party to demonstrate that the other should be solely responsible for a debt if he or she can prove that the debt was incurred after the parties stopped living together and that it is not related to their relationship.
Dividing a pension requires a special evaluation by a pension expert. The expert will provide the judge with a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO), which is an estimate of what the value of the pension will be when it is paid out and advice on how to divide it. The amount the other party is entitled to is determined by the number of years the couple was married. The judge must approve the QDRO.
As is evidenced by this brief summary, equitable distribution is not a simple process. It is advisable to seek out an experienced divorce attorney to help you sort out through the process, especially if you are in a situation, as many people are in this difficult economy, where your house is “upside-down.”