Going through a divorce can be an exhausting experience. There will be many important issues that must be dealt with and decided upon, and you’ll have questions about how the process works. One of those issues is property division and how a court decides who gets what.
When a divorce is contested, it is the family court, rather than the spouses, that decides how property will be divided. The court will take an accounting of every asset and liability owned by the couple, classifying each one into different categories: separate property and marital property.
Separate property refers to any asset or liability owned entirely by one spouse. Typically, this means something owned before the couple was married, but it can also include certain gifts or inheritances received during the marriage. Anything classified as separate property will be awarded to the spouse who owns it.
Marital property and the doctrine of equitable distribution
Any asset or debt that is not separate property is classified as marital property—meaning both spouses own interest in it. Rhode Island is an equitable distribution state, which is different from a community property state. Equitable distribution dictates that property is divided in a fair manner, rather than equally. When the court decides how to divide property between the spouses, its goal is a just outcome. This may result is splitting the property 50/50, or it may not.
To arrive at its conclusion, the court will consider many factors, including the length of the marriage, the spouses’ conduct during the marriage and their contributions to it. Their ages, health, and income will be weighed, as well as any other factor the court thinks is necessary for a fair outcome.
Property division can be a complex issue to analyze and resolve. If you wish to know how your divorce will be treated, speak to a professional who is experienced in Rhode Island family law and divorce.