In Virginia, property is divided according to a statute, and it’s called “equitable distribution.” Different states divide property differently, so you need to be sure that you’re familiarizing yourself with the way it’s done in the state where you live. If you live in Virginia, though, you’re in the right place.
Equitable distribution means that property will be divided “fairly” between the parties. In most cases, this means that marital property (that is, property earned or purchased by the parties during the course of the marriage) will often be divided close to 50/50. That doesn’t mean that 50/50 is the default, or that 50/50 always happens. In fact, equitable distribution means that the court can look at the contributions of the parties (both monetary and nonmonetary), and can award something completely different than 50/50.
This law means that the judge can look at everything—from whether one of you committed adultery, to how much money you each made during the marriage, and how many carpools you drove to swim practice. Everything has a negative or positive monetary or nonmonetary value, and the judge can use that value to make an award that is “equitable,” or that is not 50/50. Don’t get too excited, though; in almost every case I’ve ever seen, the award is very, very close to 50/50, even in cases where there has been adultery (a pretty seriously bad negative nonmonetary contribution).
Remember, though, that there is always a difference between how a court would divide things, and how you and your husband might agree to divide things in your separation agreement. In most cases, I see property divided pretty close to 50/50. Sometimes, if you catch him while he’s feeling guilty after an affair, you can get him to agree to something that gives you slightly more than 50/50. Or, at the very least, you can negotiate property division in a way that serves your interests.
As far as this divorce law goes, the good news is that it gives you a lot of flexibility. In exceptional circumstances, judges CAN deviate from 50/50, which can be advantageous. If nothing else, you know that you can use the law to negotiate an agreement that takes your goals and your plans for your future into account.