Each state employs its own rules on how to distribute property, but equitable distribution is the most common standard in United States. Under this principle, the court divides assets fairly, but not necessary equally or evenly. For example, if one spouse has limited ability to work because of health problems or needs to stay in the marital home to maintain stability for the couple's child, she may receive more assets in the divorce than her husband. Community property states typically divide all property and liabilities 50-50, regardless of the couple’s respective incomes, health and personal circumstances. However, the principles of property division generally only apply to marital property -- which is the property that a couple acquires together during their marriage, not personal property you owned before getting married.
Prenuptial agreements, or contracts regarding property division made prior to a marriage, affect the outcome of property division. A prenuptial agreement can provide a clear outline for the division of property, provided that the prenuptial agreement is valid – meaning that both parties agreed to it willingly, that it is reasonable and that the party with the most assets did not hide property or money. If a prenuptial agreement is in place at the time of the divorce, the court will generally consider it valid and divide property according to its terms unless you or your spouse challenge its validity.
In addition to dividing up money in your bank accounts and your shared property, you may be required to pay your wife spousal support, also known as alimony. Like other property division issues in a divorce, state law governs spousal support. Generally, however, the court considers each spouse’s earning potential, how long you were married, you and your wife’s respective needs and the standard of living that you maintained during the marriage. For example, if you were married for 15 years and your spouse stayed at home and cared for your children while you established your business, you will likely owe spousal support and may be required to pay it indefinitely. Alternatively, if you had a two-year marriage during which both you and your spouse were employed and had similar income levels, it is unlikely that your wife will have a claim for spousal support. In the past, some states considered who was at fault for the divorce when calculating alimony. For instance, if your wife committed adultery, the court may have denied her spousal support. However, currently, few states factor in blame when calculating alimony.
If you and your spouse have children together, you may owe your wife child support. Each state establishes its own child support guidelines, but usually one of two common formulas is used to determine how much you owe. One method, the income shares model, combines both parents' incomes and requires the noncustodial parent to pay a percentage of the total support figure, which is based on the combined incomes. However, the percentage of income model does not take the custodial parent's income into consideration. Under this model, the noncustodial parent must pay a percentage of his income regardless of what the custodial parent makes. Regardless of the model used, most states do take into consideration the amount of time each parent has physical custody and whether the child has any exceptional educational or medical expenses.
- Rosen Law Firm: North Carolina Divorce and Division of Property
- Divorce Net: Property Division by State
- Pater Law, P.C.: Prenuptial Agreements
- Bremer & Whyte: How Spousal Support is Decided in California
- Arizona Judicial Branch: Child Support Calculator Information
- National Conference on State Legislature: Child Support Guideline Models by State
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