Yours, Mine, And Ours: How Property Is Distributed During Divorces

Property division can be one of the most complicated aspects of a divorce. If you and your spouse are unable to divide up your property yourselves, the courts may need to step in. Depending on what state you live in, there are two ways that your property may be divvied up: equitable distribution, or community property principles.

Equitable Distribution

In the United States, most states use the equitable distribution process to divide property upon divorce. The idea behind equitable distribution is that assets should be divided up as fairly as possible during divorce proceedings. Most courts will start with the presumption that the property should be divided equally, but often one spouse will actually receive a greater proportion in the end.

Courts take many things into consideration when determining how to equitably divvy out property. For example, if one spouse has a much higher income, he or she may not be entitled to as much of the property. Similarly, if one spouse has sole custody of the children, he or she may be awarded a larger proportion of the property because the financial burden is greater.

Community Property

In community property states, any property which is considered community property, or property owned by both spouses, is divided equally in half, with each spouse getting 50%. Community property includes income made by either spouse during the marriage, anything bought during the marriage, and any other property (such as a joint bank account) that appears to be owned by both spouses.

Although community property is split usually 50/50 between spouses, each spouse does get to keep his or her separate property. Separate property includes anything owned by a spouse prior to the marriage that has not been mixed with community property, any gift given to an individual spouse, and any inheritance received by one spouse. During divorce proceedings, if you prove a particular piece of property is your own, separate property, your spouse will not be entitled to it. 

Community property states include Louisiana, New Mexico, Wisconsin, Washington, California, Arizona, Idaho, Texas, and Nevada. If you live in one of these states, your divorce will be governed by community property principles.


If you are going through a divorce, check the laws and court precedent in your jurisdiction to see how your property may be divided. Feel free to consult with an attorney who will be able to help you get what is rightfully yours. For more information on family law and divorce attorneys, go to