Generally, spouses are free to divide their property as they see fit in what is called a “marital settlement agreement,” which is a contract between the husband and the wife that divides property and debts and resolves other issues of the divorce. Although many divorces begin with a high level of acrimony, a substantial majority are settled without the need for a judge to decide property or other issues. However, if the division of property cannot be settled, then the court must make the determination. Laws vary from state to state. As a starting point, many states allow both parties to keep their “nonmarital” or “separate” property.
In dividing marital or community property, the laws vary from state to state. Some states are community property states. Some states, such as California, believe that marital property should be divided equally unless a premarital agreement specifies otherwise. Most states, however, apply the concept of “equitable distribution,” which means the court divides the marital property as it thinks fair. That division may be 50-50 or something else. Some of the factors considered include: the amount of nomarital property each spouse has; each spouse’s earning power; services as a homemaker; waste and dissipation; fault; duration of the marriage; and age and health of the parties.