What is Equitable Distribution in a Divorce Proceeding?

And How Does It Apply to the Division of Marital Debts and Assets in New Jersey?

In the aftermath of a marital breakup, one of the most challenging tasks you might face is the division of marital property and allocation of debts incurred during the course of the marriage. There are essentially two approaches: (1) equitable distribution of debts and property or (2) allocation of the marital estate as community property. New Jersey applies the legal principle of equitable distribution.

What is Equitable Distribution?

The key word in equitable distribution is “equitable,” which means “fair.” A court applying the concept of equitable distribution attempts to divide debts and assets in a way that is most fair to both parties. That does not mean the property will be divided equally.

In New Jersey, if the parties to a divorce cannot agree on the distribution of property and obligations, the court will use the following criteria to create a fair settlement:

  • The length of time the parties were married
  • The age of the parties at the time of divorce
  • The mental and physical health of the parties at the time of divorce
  • The income each party brought into the marriage
  • The standard of living to which the parties were accustomed during the marriage
  • The existence of a valid prenuptial/postnuptial agreement or other document providing for the allocation of property upon divorce
  • The economic circumstances of both parties at the time of divorce
  • The contribution each party made to the education, earning power, or training of the other party
  • The current income and earning capacity of both parties
  • The extent to which either party contributed to the creation, preservation, acquisition, or dissipation of the marital estate
  • The debts and liabilities of both parties
  • The extent to which either party deferred his or her career goals to maintain the home
  • Any other factors the court may consider relevant


  • The key dates in equitable distribution are the date of the marriage and the date the Complaint For Divorce was filed. Almost any property acquired, or debts incurred, between those two dates, are “marital”. Whose name they’re in doesn’t matter, they’re joint and subject to distribution.
  • The exceptions are property acquired by gift or inheritance, or from a personal injury settlement for pain and suffering.
  • Assets and debts acquired before the marriage are generally not subject to distribution – unless acquired or incurred “in contemplation of marriage”, e.g., a house purchased a week before the wedding.
  • Assets and debts acquired after the Complaint For Divorce is filed are not subject to distribution.

Contact Attorney David M. Lipshutz

We will take your case only if we know we can help. For an appointment, contact our office online, or call us at 856-627-1990. We are available to meet with you Monday through Friday between 9 am and 5 pm.

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