Equitable distribution is a legal term that refers to the division of a couple’s assets and liabilities during a divorce.
Equitable vs. Equal
One of the more contentious issues facing a divorce court is the meaning of the word “equitable.” In Florida, the law takes this concept one step further and attempts to define the word “equitable” as being, in most cases, equal.
This can be seen as both a way to guide a court and provide some security for the litigants. While the word “equitable” may be taken by some as a synonym for equal, in reality it is a highly subjective term that leaves much of the decision-making to the discretion of the court.
Note this does not imply all settlements or judgments will be equal. What the Florida statues emphasize is fairness. It would seem the idea is to start from the most objectively “fair” standard, which is equality, and to work towards a subjectively fair standard as the case progresses.
Who Owns What?
Property that can be claimed by one or the other spouse can be classified as “separate property” in the state of Florida. In these kinds of cases, property can be automatically awarded to one or the other spouse on the grounds it was never jointly owned in the first place. As strange as it may seem, this can be considered a first step towards an “equitable” solution to a property dispute in a divorce case.
For all intents and purposes, under Florida law, property acquired during the marriage is considered “marital property.”
Everything Gets Distributed
One concept many people miss when filing for divorce is that liabilities and assets are all listed on a financial affidavit. If one spouse must absorb debts, so must the other. This can often lead to some less than desirable circumstances for one spouse or the other, as their new balance between income and debts may be very different than it was before the divorce.
Criteria for Distribution
There are many interlocking criteria for an “equitable distribution” of property in a Florida divorce. Among the many things a judge must decide is how the duration of the marriage affects each spouse and what their financial situation will be once they are on their own. This can be much more difficult than it sounds. The good news is Florida law is somewhat more objective when it comes to who gets what, as it seeks to enforce an equal distribution instead of a simply “equitable” one.
Ultimately the decision often comes down to a question of proportionality. If the purpose of the Florida statute is to enforce a regime where all participants are equal under the law, then the criteria for reaching a fair division of assets depends on what each participant in the marriage contributed during the time the couple was married.