The common knowledge surrounding divorce is that you not only lose your spouse, but half of everything you own as well. As it turns out, you might only lose half of everything both you and your spouse own collectively, and even that could depend on what state you live in.
While some states divide all marital property equally upon divorce, others follow rules of "equitable distribution," meaning it's more likely that a spouse will leave the marriage with all of the assets or property that he or she acquired during it. Here's a quick look at which states follow which rules in a divorce, and what you might expect if you're the chief earner in the household.
Only nine states have community property laws that divide marital property equally upon divorce: Arizona, California, Louisiana, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin. Those states define marital property as all property (including income and debts) acquired during the marriage and will generally split that property 50/50 in a divorce.
The other 41 states use common law principles of equitable distribution when deciding which spouse gets what following a divorce. Generally speaking, this means that property acquired by one spouse is considered owned completely and solely by that spouse, unless both spouse's names are on the deed or title.
In common law or equitable distribution states, a court may decide who gets what. In doing so, income earned by one spouse, and property acquired with that income, will normally remain that spouse's after the divorce. For any shared or contested property, the court will decide who gets what, and attempt to be as fair and as close to an even split as possible.
Keep in mind, though, that some state courts may consider fault in the divorce when allocating property, and could also take things like income or earning disparities, age, health, or child custody issues into account when dividing property. Divorcing spouses can avoid leaving property division up to a court, however, if they can negotiate their own property agreement. (These agreements will normally need judicial approval.)
So if you're earning far more than your spouse, or are the sole breadwinner in the house, chances are you'll keep your income and most of the assets acquired with that income. But you may still need to pay spousal support, depending on the circumstances of your divorce. Every divorce is different -- consult an experienced divorce attorney regarding yours.
- Dealing with a divorce? Get your case reviewed for free now. (Consumer Injury - Family)
- 5 Easiest States to Get a Divorce (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life)
- How to Make a Divorce Fast, Cheap, and Painless (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life)
- Top 5 Marital Property Questions During a Divorce (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life)