Equitable Distribution of Marital Property
Illinois is a jurisdiction that utilizes the principle of equitable distribution when determining how marital property should be divided. The principle of equitable distribution applies not only to marital assets but also to debts of the marital estate. Marital debts like marital assets must be distributed equitably. In re Marriage of Awan, 388 Ill.App.3d 204 (2009). Section 5/503(d) of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act requires that the court divide the marital property into “just portions” which does not always equate to a 50/50 division. 750 ILCS 5/503(d). The Act does not require that property be distributed with mathematical equality; rather, the touchstone of proper apportionment is whether it is equitable in nature. In re Marriage of Heroy, 385 Ill.App.3d 640 (2008). There court will consider all relevant factors to ensure an equitable distribution, including the following twelve factors that are listed in the Act: each party’s contribution to the increase or decrease of the value of the marital estate (which includes the contributions of a spouse to the family as a homemaker), any dissipation of martial property by either spouse, the value of property assigned to each spouse, the duration of the marriage, the economic circumstances of each spouse at the time of distribution, any obligations existing from a spouse’s previous marriage, any agreements between the parties (such as a prenup), age and other factors affecting the employability of a spouse, custodial provisions for any children, whether the apportionment is in addition to maintenance, the future earning potential of each spouse, and the tax consequences of the distribution to each spouse. 740 ILCS 5/503(d)(1-12).
Absent any agreements between the parties, the process of dividing and distributing marital assets may become contentious. One spouse may believe they are entitled to a certain portion of marital property, but Illinois courts have considerable discretion to distribute the property in a manner that is equitable and not necessarily equal. The distribution of marital property rests within the sound discretion of the trial court and will not be disturbed absent an abuse of discretion. In re Marriage of Tietz, 238 Ill.App.3d 965 (1992). The Illinois Appellate Court will uphold an equitable distribution of marital property when there is evidence that the trial court conscientiously evaluated the circumstances of the parties and considered all relevant statutory factors before dividing the property. Id.
Similarly, New Jersey and Florida are also jurisdictions that recognize the principle of equitable distribution. The New Jersey Supreme Court has upheld the statutory guidelines set in place for dividing marital assets, stating that equitable distribution reflects a public policy that acknowledges that marriage is a shared enterprise or joint undertaking. Thieme v. Aucoin-Thieme, 227 N.J. 269 (2016). The goal of equitable distribution is to effectuate a fair and just division of marital assets. Stenken v. Stenken, 183 N.J. 290 (2005). The Florida Supreme Court has upheld lower court decisions that follow the state’s statutory guidelines for determining an equitable distribution of marital property. Acker v. Acker, 904 So.2d 384 (2005). In dissolution cases, the trial judge possesses the broad, discretionary authority to do equity between the parties. Id.