Understanding Community Property vs Equitable Distribution

Going through a divorce isn’t just stressful; it can be a mentally and emotionally taxing experience. But along with the stress of separating from your partner, you will also have to go through the process of dividing your shared assets amongst each other. 

Since this can be a very distressing time for you, it is possible for you to settle for less than what you deserve or let the court decide how to split the assets. If you let the court decide how to split your assets, there are two ways of going about it: Community Property and Equitable Distribution. Depending on your state, the court will distribute assets accordingly. Moving to either one of these is more likely to happen if you don’t have an experienced divorce lawyer by your side. 

Understanding Equitable Distribution 

Equitable distribution is the most common system for property division in the US, as out of 50 states, 41 use it. The important distinction here is that all debts, personal property, earnings, and assets will be split amongst both parties “fairly.” This does not mean equality. 

Judges will often order specific assets to be sold but not give equal halves to both parties. If the judge sees that one partner is hiding assets, then they may give a larger share of another asset to the other partner as compensation. Furthermore, if the court sees that one of the spouses put their career aside to focus on their home, then they are more likely to receive a larger share of assets like a house. 

Remember, the key point worth understanding about equitable distribution is that it is equal, even if it might not sound fair. 

Factors that can Affect the Outcome of Equitable Distribution 

There are a handful of factors that could affect the outcome of equitable distribution, apart from a quality divorce attorney. Since every case of separation is different, the court will look at the unique factors of this separation. These factors can include:

  • A Partner’s behavior: The court will look at a spouse’s behavior and see if there was a pattern of mistreatment. If a partner mistreats another, the partner at the receiving end could be entitled to better compensation. 
  • Any legal obligations: If one partner needs to pay out child support or alimony from a previous marriage, then the court will also consider this when distributing the assets among both partners. 
  • Each spouse’s separate property: The judge will also look into how much property individuals own, which could significantly slow down the divorce proceedings. 
  • Age and health of spouses: Spouses that are older have a serious illness or issues with mobility, which are also factors that a court will consider. 
  • Non-monetary contributions to the home: These can include house labour, taking care of sick relatives in a family home, or even caring for children instead of following their career aspirations. 
  • Monetary contributions of each spouse: How much has each spouse contributed to the house with their money? 
  • Future needs: The court will also decide each spouse’s future financial situation, such as their need for further education 
  • Marriage Length: They will also consider how long the couple has stayed together, with longer marriages playing in any individual’s favor. 
  • Collective debts: The court will also consider the debts that the couple has collectively taken on and will distribute them among both parties. 

Advantages of Equitable Distribution

Even when working with professional divorce lawyers, it can be advantageous to opt for equitable distribution. Some of these advantages include:


Equitable distribution takes a more holistic look at the couple’s health, financial situation, faults, and even future considerations, among others. This ensures that both parties will receive a verdict that is fair, even if it is not equal. 


The court takes a very nuanced look at the entire situation with the family law lawyers present. This geater nuance means that they will be considering every aspect of the divorce and its preceding marriage, even if that means it takes more time. 

Community Property

Community property is another way that a court may distribute the property of a divorcing couple. However, unlike equitable distribution, the court will consider all of the property accumulated during the marriage to be jointly owned by both partners. So this can include:

Debts: Any debt that either of the individuals takes on will be considered community property. 

Personal property: Personal property can include cars, furniture, artwork, or any other belongings that either party bought during the marriage, which can also be distributed equally. 

Real estate: This can include a house, land, or any other type of property will also be part of the proceedings. 

Income: Salaries, commissions, wages, bonuses, or any other type of income that any of the individuals earn during the marriage will also count as community property. 

Splitting Everything 50/50

Community property states believe that both spouses equally own the assets that they acquire. Anything from cars, houses, land, jewelry, and other assets belong to both spouses 50/50. Therefore, during the proceedings, the court will divide all of the community property in half. While there are some exceptions to these assets that fall under the community property label, almost everything that the couple owned collectively will be part of the proceedings. 

Exceptions for Community Property 

Any good family law attorney can tell you that the exception to community property falls into a larger category of separate property. This can include:

Assets Owned Before Marriage: Assets that either one of the spouses owned individually before their marriage will not be considered community property.

Gift and Inheritance: Spouses that receive a gift or inheritance during their marriage will not have to consider it as community property. Instead, it will fall under the category of separate property. However, if the couple received a gift meant for both of them, that could be different. 


Community property and equitable distribution are two very different systems that courts will use to distribute assets amongst both parties. Equitable distribution puts an emphasis on flexibility and potentialy fairer outcomes for both parties. Whereas community property looks to split the couple’s assets amongst each other equally, with no consideration of the nuances of the case. 

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