How do judges decide how property will be divided in divorce?

You’ve probably heard that, in Virginia, the way property is divided is through “equitable distribution.” This means that, when a judge makes a determination about who deserves to receive what, he is supposed to consider what is fair based on the negative and positive monetary and nonmonetary contributions each person made to the marriage. Normally, property is divided somewhere close to 50/50, but it doesn’t have to be, particularly if one party made significant negative contributions to the family.

What’s a monetary contribution?

Monetary contributions are, simply, the financial support you provide to the family.

What’s a nonmonetary contribution?

Nonmonetary contributions are any other support that you may provide to the family. It is often in this category that women’s abilities really shine, because nonmonetary contributions take into account everything from cooking, cleaning, and laundry, to yard work and childcare. Almost everything you do to contribute to the household is a nonmonetary contribution. This is an area where women, whether they work or stay at home, really shine, because their nonmonetary contributions often exceed that of their husbands.

How do you differentiate between positive and negative contributions?

That’s simple. If you do something to help the family, it’s a positive contribution. Earning an income is a positive monetary contribution, and meal planning, cooking, and grocery shopping is a positive nonmonetary contribution. If you do something that hurts the family, it’s a negative contribution. If your husband is spending marital money on his paramour, that’s a negative monetary contribution. The act of adultery, drug abuse, or alcoholism itself is a negative nonmonetary contribution.

You can have both positive and negative monetary and nonmonetary contributions, and the judge will take all of these things into account when determining how to divide the assets and liabilities of your marriage between you and your spouse. Typically, even when there’s a serious negative monetary or nonmonetary contribution, distribution is still somewhere close to 50/50, but the major takeaway point here is that the judge could, if he so desired, use the circumstances to support a disproportionate award to one or the other of you. Do I think the judge will? No. But he could.

Remember that everything you do can be considered by the judge in equitable distribution. In most cases, it won’t make much difference, but you should make sure to behave accordingly while your divorce is pending.

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