If you have started researching for your upcoming divorce, you might have come across the phrase "equitable distribution." This term refers to the legal requirements involved for dividing property at the end of a marriage under North Dakota law.
Essentially, equitable in this context means "fair." Rather than simply listing all the marital property and dividing it 50/50, when it comes to property division North Dakota courts try to determine what is fair.
To explain this further, first remember that marital property consists, generally, of all property and debts accumulated during the marriage. Separate property includes assets acquired before the marriage. Inheritances, court awards, gifts and some other types of property acquired during the marriage may be considered separate property in some circumstances. Things get more complicated when separate property is commingled with marital property, as when an inheritance is deposited in a joint bank account.
In one sense, the fairest way to divide marital property might be to simply split it in half. However, when you apply this principle to individual cases, you quickly start to see how this can lead to unfair results.
In many cases, one spouse earned significantly more than the other, and it seems fair that this spouse should therefore get more than 50% of the property. In other cases, dividing the marital property in half leaves one spouse at a distinct disadvantage. This can be the case when one spouse had a high-paying career while the other sacrificed a career in order to stay home to raise the children. At the end of the marriage, the high-earning spouse can continue to make good money, but the stay-at-home spouse will have to find a new source of income.
Courts have several guidelines and ways to try to reach a more equitable result. In most cases however, the parties negotiate their way to a fair division of assets and put that in their settlement agreement. A court looks over the agreement to give its approval or not. A skilled family law attorney can help clients protect their interests, negotiate a fair property division agreement and find their way to a better post-divorce future.