Equitable Distribution is defined as "the fair, but not necessarily equal, division between former spouses of property acquired during the marriage" and is one of four main subject areas covered during divorce mediation along with Parenting, Child Support and Spousal Support / Alimony.
To begin the process of equitable distribution in NJ, the mediator will ask each party to produce a list of marital assets as well as any assets not considered marital assets (i.e. those assets each party held prior to entering the marriage, or may have received as a gift or through an inheritance) for the purpose of determining an item's inclusion or exclusion in the equitable distribution discussion.
These items may include, but are not limited to: the value of any real estate held such as the couple's marital home or vacation home, any items such as furniture, appliances and decorative items, any bank accounts including checking, savings, money markets and CD's, the current value of any 401(k) Plans, IRAs, or pensions, or any businesses should an individual be self-employed. A complete list of items required will be provided by your mediator once you begin your sessions. Once the list has been compiled, the mediator will work with the couple to facilitate the discussion regarding the equitable distribution of marital assets, keeping in mind that equitable may not always mean equal. The mediator will bring in advisors or refer the couple to subject matter experts where appropriate to determine valuation for such complex assets such as pensions or businesses one or both of the parties may hold.
In additional to the equitable distribution of assets, liabilities are also equitably shared. These items may include, but are not limited to: the mortgages on the couple's property including the first mortgage as well as any home equity loans, loans on any vehicles, credit card balances, potential taxes owed to the IRS (especially important in the early part of the year when the couple may not have filed their previous year's taxes) etc. The liabilities will also be equally divided between the former spouses unless the liability was incurred prior to the marriage and no such "co-mingling" has occurred as may be the case with something such as a student loan. As with marital assets, the mediator will bring in advisors or refer the couple to subject matter experts where appropriate.
As every family's circumstances are unique, it is always best to consult with a mediator who can help you and your spouse understand the principle behind equitable distribution in detail and determine what an appropriate division of assets and liabilities would be. With that in mind, please note this document is intended to give a general overview of the subject matter and not to provide any specific legal advice.
NJ Equitable Distribution: An Example
Let's say a couple that has been married 25 years has two items each of sentimental value - the husband's collection of antique clocks that he's collected for the past 15 years worth $2,000 and the wife's collection of rare lamps that she has collected for the past 20 years worth $10,000, both marital assets by definition. In this example, if the husband had a sentimental attachment to his clocks and was fully aware that by agreeing to relinquish his share of the lamp collection ($5,000) so that he may garner his wife's share of the clock collection ($1,000) he effectively gives up $4,000 in additional assets to his former spouse, the courts will not seek to adjust the distribution. And while in these situations, typically the discrepancy in assets is equaled out somewhere else (perhaps through additional funds from a bank account) it is not mandatory and the disparity can stand and as long as each party understands the differences and considers the overall distribution of property, fair and equitable, regardless of the total at the bottom of the "balance sheet."
So where does this discussion on equitable distribution leave us? That is truly up to the couple to decide. While NJ law does provide some guidelines, the concept of equitable distribution is truly based on what the couple considers fair and reasonable. Once you've had a chance to review the New Jersey Equitable Distribution Criteria, you will see the factors are as varied as the possessions that may require distribution so it's always best to come to an agreement that works for both of you rather than leaving it to the courts, attorneys and judges to decide.
Equitable Mediation specializes in helping divorcing couples negotiate a fair settlement and divorce peacefully and cost-effectively – without lawyers.
For more than 20 years, Equitable Mediation Founder and Divorce Mediator Joe Dillon has been helping individuals, couples and corporations mediate a myriad of complex issues and intractable problems by utilizing his expertise in negotiation, finance and interpersonal relationships.
For more than 20 years, Co-Founder, Divorce Coach and Co-mediator Cheryl Dillon has been employing her background in psychology, human resources and life coaching to help individuals overcome obstacles to achieve their goals and reach their fullest potential.
Joe and Cheryl are passionate about helping couples avoid the destruction of attorney-driven litigation and know first-hand that the right information, combined with the right expertise and the right kind of support can make the challenging process of divorce less expensive, less time-consuming and less stressful for divorcing couples and their children.
Equitable Mediation serves clients in New Jersey and Illinois.
Joe and Cheryl can be contacted by phone at: (877) 732-6682
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