In Wyoming, a court will divide marital property during a divorce based on a system called equitable distribution. This means that the property will be split between spouses in a way that is equitable based on the entire financial impact of the divorce. An equitable division does not have to be equal. The divorcing spouses, however, will have opportunities throughout the divorce process to agree between themselves on what is a fair division. If they cannot work together, or if there are certain items of property that they cannot agree on, then the court will decide for them.
In a divorce, the distribution of property depends on which property belongs to the marriage – marital property – and which property belongs to each of the two spouses – separate property. Generally, marital property is property acquired or earned during the marriage. Property used for the benefit of the marriage, even if it started out as separate property, may also be considered marital property.
Separate property includes anything that belonged only to one spouse before marriage and was kept separate throughout the marriage. It could also include property given only to one spouse during the marriage, like a gift of a classic car from the husband’s brother to the husband alone or an inheritance upon the death of the wife’s great aunt to the wife alone.
The types of property that's divided at divorce can include real property, like the family home, and intangible property like income, dividends, and benefits. Marital property must be divided between the spouses when the marriage ends. In Wyoming, the court may also include the separate property of one or both spouses if it makes the total division more equitable.
Rather than rely on a hard and fast set of rules when splitting property between spouses, in Wyoming the court has discretion to consider a variety of factors unique to each marriage. Despite the court’s relative freedom to decide what is fair, the law explains that the judge should look at the conditions each spouse will face alone after the divorce, such as earning potential, medical needs, and childcare costs. It should also look at how property was acquired, the length of the marriage, and any debts and liabilities. Disparities in education and earning potential can be factors as well. For example, where a husband helped put his wife through medical school, the court may offset his sacrifices during the marriage and her greater earnings by giving him a bigger portion of the total assets at divorce. Even sentimental value for a specific item may be considered as part of the overall decision.
The court will also consider spousal support as part of the equitable division. Spousal support is a payment from one spouse to the other to help the recipient spouse maintain a lifestyle as close as possible to the marital standard of living. The court decides whether spousal support should be paid, and the amount, as part of the total division of property. In other words, one spouse may end up with less property than might otherwise be fair, but the court can even out the inequity by ordering the other spouse to pay support. In making the order for support, the court must consider the obligated spouse’s ability to pay.
You can read the law on division of property in Wyomi at the Wyoming Statute Annotated 20-2-114. To read how the court treated the wife’s medical-school education as a factor, see the case Root v. Root, 65 P.3d 41 (Wy. 2003). See also Sanning v. Sanning 233 P.3d 922 (Wy. 2010) for how sentimental value played a role in the division of property. If you want to learn more about spousal support, read the case Young v. Young, 472 P.2d 784 (Wy. 1970).