The term equitable distribution refers to how a court divides up a couple’s assets in a Rhode Island divorce. Rather than split a couple’s assets down the middle 50/50, courts consider a variety of factors when determining how to divide assets and liabilities. The concept behind the doctrine of equitable distribution is that marriage is viewed as an “economic partnership” between two people. Thus, courts attempt to award marital property according to the contributions each party made to the “partnership” during the marriage. Most types of property can be subject to equitable distribution, including real estate, cars, artwork, furniture, bank accounts, business interests, and even retirement accounts.
The equitable distribution process requires Rhode Island family law judges to engage in a multi-step analysis. First, the judge must determine what constitutes marital property. Courts consider marital property any property that was acquired during the marriage, with a few exceptions. While property that was owned by one spouse before the marriage is not typically considered marital property, any increase in value that occurred during the marriage may be subject to equitable distribution. Inherited property is not considered marital property, nor is any income received from such property. However, gifts between spouses are marital property.
Once a judge determines which of the couple’s assets are marital property, she will then consult the list of factors contained in Rhode Island General Laws section 15-5-16.1, including: