New Jersey is an “equitable distribution” state, which means that when a couple divorces, the court divides their assets and debts in a way that it deems fair. On the surface, that rule sounds like it is leaving the door open for plenty of arbitrary judgments, and therefore also plenty of ex-spouses who are unjustly enriched or who have their property and savings take away through no fault of theirs. In fact, New Jersey law does not simply leave the definition of the word “fair” up to the divorcing couple or to the judge; the law actually specifies criteria on which to determine how much each former spouse is entitled to get. A New Jersey divorce lawyer can help ensure that the court applies the equitable distribution rules appropriately in your case.
How Do New Jersey Courts Decide Who Gets What?
The principle behind the New Jersey division of property laws is that each spouse should continue to enjoy the same standard of living after the divorce as they did while they were married. Therefore, the court considers how much income each spouse is likely to earn in the future at least as important as it considers how much income each spouse earned before the divorce. Specifically, Statute 2A:34-23.1 states that judges should take into account the following factors when deciding how to divide a couple’s property in a divorce:
● Each spouse’s earning potential, including age, health, education, and professional training, and employment history;
● The amount of individually owned property each spouse has from before the marriage;
● The length of the marriage;
● The amount of debt carried by each spouse;
● Any written agreements about division of property signed by the spouses, such as prenuptial agreements; and
● Any other factors the court considers relevant.
The Economic Rights of Spouses
The laws on equitable distribution allude to the fact that marriage is an economic partnership. The courts acknowledge that spouses who are not earning money are still contributing to the survival and well-being of the family. Generally speaking, the court will treat all property acquired and money earned during the marriage as rightfully belonging to both spouses.
The same does not go for money and property owned by each spouse before the marriage. In general, if you owned a house in your name before you got married, the court will let you keep it after the divorce. Remember that each case is unique, and you may not be able to claim property that your spouse owned owned before the marriage, especially if your marriage was brief and you do not have children together.
If you have any questions regarding the distribution of your assets and property, a family lawyer can help. Contact Kelly, Kelly, Marotta, & Tuchman to discuss your case.