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It's the common divorce trope, from movies to rap songs, and maybe even the advice you got from aunt: if you get a divorce, your spouse gets half of everything. And while that might be the intent of some divorce laws, it's a bit more complicated than that and it's likely your divorce won't quite shake out that way.
What and how much each spouse will end up with in a divorce will vary depending on the state you live in and the circumstances preceding the divorce. Here's a look at some state statutes and the factors that will determine property division in a divorce.
Community Property States
Nine states (Arizona, California, Louisiana, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin) have what are known as community property laws, which divide marital property equally upon divorce. Marital property is generally defined as all income, property, and debts acquired during the marriage. That property is seen as owned equally by both spouses, and therefore will be distributed equally after the divorce, with a couple caveats.
First, this doesn't apply to separate property, normally defined as property owned by one spouse before the marriage or acquired by one spouse during the marriage through a gift or inheritance. So any assets you owned prior to your wedding day would remain yours after your wedding day.
Second, not all property can be split 50/50; houses, cars, furniture, and other physical possessions can't be cut in half. So parties or the court will decide how to divide these assets up as equally as possible, in some cases forcing the sale of an asset and having the exes split the proceeds.
So even in community property states, you won't be losing half of everything you own -- at most you'll be losing half of everything both you and your spouse own.
Common Law or Equitable Distribution States
The majority of states using common law principles of equitable distribution when deciding who gets what following a divorce. This means that property acquired by one member of a married couple is generally considered owned completely and solely by that person, and would remain theirs in a divorce. For contested property or property acquired by both spouses, the court will decide who gets what, and attempt to be as fair as possible.
In some states, courts may consider fault in the divorce when allocating property, and could also take things like income or earning disparities, age, health, or child custody issues into account when dividing property. Or, the parties can come to their own property agreement, which a judge or court may then approve.
In any case, you're probably not going to lose half of everything you own, but you may want the help of an experienced divorce attorney to make sure.
Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.