Dear Cassie: Is New Jersey a “community property” state?

Dear V.H.:

No. New Jersey is an equitable distribution state.

Different states have differing laws in terms of how property is divided in the event of divorce. “Community property” is the legal system used in certain states whereby each spouse is presumed to have an interest in 50% of most property acquired during the marriage. California and Texas are two notable examples of community property states.

In contrast, New Jersey (and many other states in the United States) have laws that provide for an equitable distribution of property acquired during the marriage. Equitable distribution does not necessarily mean equal distribution. Instead, the Court is tasked with determining a fair division of assets based on the facts and circumstances of each particular case.

New Jersey has a statute which identifies the factors that a court must consider in ordering the equitable distribution of property, N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23.1. That statute identifies the following factors relevant to the issue:

a. The duration of the marriage or civil union;

b. The age and physical and emotional health of the parties;

c. The income or property brought to the marriage or civil union by each party;

d. The standard of living established during the marriage or civil union;

e. Any written agreement made by the parties before or during the marriage or civil union concerning an arrangement of property distribution;

f. The economic circumstances of each party at the time the division of property becomes effective;

g. The income and earning capacity of each party, including educational background, training, employment skills, work experience, length of absence from the job market, custodial responsibilities for children, and the time and expense necessary to acquire sufficient education or training to enable the party to become self-supporting at a standard of living reasonably comparable to that enjoyed during the marriage or civil union;

h. The contribution by each party to the education, training or earning power of the other;

i. The contribution of each party to the acquisition, dissipation, preservation, depreciation or appreciation in the amount or value of the marital property, or the property acquired during the civil union as well as the contribution of a party as a homemaker;

j. The tax consequences of the proposed distribution to each party;

k. The present value of the property;

l. The need of a parent who has physical custody of a child to own or occupy the marital residence or residence shared by the partners in a civil union couple and to use or own the household effects;

m. The debts and liabilities of the parties;

n. The need for creation, now or in the future, of a trust fund to secure reasonably foreseeable medical or educational costs for a spouse, partner in a civil union couple or children;

o. The extent to which a party deferred achieving their career goals; and

p. Any other factors which the court may deem relevant.

It should be noted that equitable distribution is decided before alimony is decided. How assets are divided could and often does impact the alimony ultimately awarded.