In community property states, spouses are considered equal owners of everything acquired or earned during their marriage. Dividing up the assets (and the debts) in a divorce basically amounts to splitting things in half.

In an equitable distribution state like Texas, things aren’t so simple. The assets acquired by a spouse belong to the spouse that earned them. The other spouse doesn’t necessarily gain a share. When there’s a divorce, the property has to be divided up “in a manner that the court deems just and right.” In other words, the court doesn’t have to divide a couple’s assets equally. Instead, the court must divide things equitably.

What exactly does that mean?

In short, it means that the court is free to award one spouse a disproportionate share of the marital assets if there’s a compelling reason to do so.

The court may consider any number of factors while trying to reach a decision about what’s equitable, including things like the relative ages and health of the couple, any income disparity, their respective employment opportunities and issues involving any waste of marital funds.

For example, imagine that you have always worked hard and saved your money. You’ve built a significant retirement account in your name through carefully planned deposits. Your spouse, on the other hand, has always been free with money — preferring to “live in the moment.” They spent every spare dime of their income on personal luxuries and entertainment. When you divorce, it wouldn’t seem fair to pay half of your retirement to your spouse simply because you saved and your spouse didn’t. Hopefully, the judge hearing your case would agree.

If you’re approaching a divorce, make sure that you understand how equitable distribution works. You may be entitled to more of the marital assets than you think. For advice tailored to your specific situation, contact our office directly.