In Focus: Rules of Equitable Distribution in Virginia

In a Virginia divorce, marital property must be divided according to the state’s equitable distribution rules. This means that the property must be divided in a way that is fair, but this does not mean a 50-50 split, and there are numerous factors involved in this determination. Ultimately, the best way to protect your interests is by working with the right family law attorney. In the meantime, this article is a brief overview of the rules of equitable distribution.

What is marital property?

The first thing to know about equitable distribution is how the law defines marital property. Generally marital property includes:

  • Any property purchased by either spouse during the marriage, regardless of how title is held
  • Property that was acquired by the couple (e.g. a house or a car)
  • The income and retirement benefits earned by each spouse during the marriage
  • Enhanced earning capacity of either spouse as a result of obtaining an advanced degree or professional license

In addition, small businesses and professional practices may also be considered marital property, however the courts are unlikely to split a business entity. Instead, the spouse who runs the business will likely be awarded the entity while the other spouse may be granted additional property or a cash payment as compensation.

On the other hand, each spouse retains their own personal or separate property. This includes:

  • Any property acquired by either spouse before the marriage
  • Property received individually, such as an inheritance or gift, compensation from a legal settlements
  • Any property specified under a valid prenuptial agreement.

Depending on the circumstances, however, the court may consider the value of each spouse’s separate property and grant a reasonable monetary award to the other as compensation.

How is equitable distribution determined?

The equitable distribution of marital assets is based on factors such as:

  • The financial status and earning capacity of each spouse
  • Each spouse’s contribution to the acquisition of marital property
  • Any contributions to the education or earning capacity of either spouse
  • The future financial needs and liabilities of each spouse
  • Whether one party is paying spousal maintenance to the other

Other factors involved include any potential pension, health insurance, and inheritance rights either spouse may lose after the divorce, the tax consequences to each spouse, the probable future financial circumstances of each spouse, and any other factor the court determines to be fair and proper.

The Takeaway

In the end, the equitable distribution laws in Virginia are complicated, particularly in high-asset divorces or cases where business assets are involved. In any event, having the advice and guidance of an experienced divorce attorney is essential.  For over forty years, Surovell, Isaacs & Levy, P.C. has helped clients navigate the divorce process.

Posted in: Family Law