Property Division by State

If you and your spouse can't agree on how to distribute property during your divorce, the courts will divide your assets under one of two basic schemes, depending on where you live. Learn more about the differences between community property and equitable distribution states.

Community Property Versus Equitable Distribution. If you and your spouse can't determine how to divide property and debts during your divorce, the courts will divide your assets under one of two basic schemes: community property or equitable distribution. The main difference between community property and equitable distribution is that in community property states, there is an absolute 50-50 split of all property acquired during the marriage. In equitable distribution states, more assets may be considered “marital property,” but the split is not necessarily 50-50.

Community property. There are nine community property states: Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin. In these states, all property of a married person is classified as either community property (owned jointly by both spouses) or the separate property of one spouse. Marital property refers generally to all of the property acquired by either or both spouses during the marriage. Separate property refers to any property the spouses acquired separately before the marriage or after separation (or in some states after divorce). Separate property also includes any gifts or inheritances acquired by either spouse at any time. There are exceptions to these general rules, which are spelled out in each state's property laws.

At divorce, community property is generally divided equally between the spouses, while each spouse keeps his or her separate property.

Couples in Alaska can opt in to a community property system like the one described above. In South Dakota and Tennessee, spouses can opt in to a modified community property approach by transferring specific assets or property into a valid community property trust.‚Äč

Equitable distribution. In the remaining states, assets and earnings accumulated during marriage are divided equitably (fairly), but not necessarily equally. In some of those states, the judge may order one party to use separate property to make the settlement fair to both spouses.

What sometimes makes this confusing is that division of property does not necessarily mean a physical division. A court may award each spouse a percentage of the total value of the property. In that event, each spouse will get personal property, assets, and debts whose worth adds up to an assigned percentage. Note that it's illegal for either spouse to hide assets in order to shield them from property division, and if you do this, a court could punish you with sanctions and in some states, by awarding a percentage of the value of the hidden asset to your spouse. In California, if you intentionally and fraudulently hide an asset from your spouse during the divorce, a court could award 100% of that asset to your spouse as a punishment.

Division of Marital Property Laws by State

Alabama
Alaska
Arizona
Arkansas
California
Colorado
Connecticut
Delaware
D.C.
Florida
Georgia
Hawaii
Idaho Illinois
Indiana
Iowa
Kansas
Kentucky
Louisiana
Maine
Maryland
Massachusetts
Michigan
Minnesota
Mississippi
Missouri Montana
Nebraska
Nevada
New Hampshire
New Jersey
New Mexico
New York
North Carolina
North Dakota
Ohio
Oklahoma
Oregon
Pennsylvania Rhode Island
South Carolina
South Dakota
Tennessee
Texas
Utah
Vermont
Virginia
Washington
West Virginia
Wisconsin
Wyoming

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