Virginia considers marriage an economic partnership. As such, it is in the majority of states that follow equitable distribution law for the division of marital property and debts during divorce. Under Virginia Code Section 20-107.3, courts must engage in a fair division of marital property and debts. While some couples may agree amongst themselves on the fair division of marital property, conflicts often arise and many must rely on the courts to decide on their behalf. The goal of the court is to encourage fair and equitable results. However, despite its name, equitable distribution does not necessarily mean 50/50 distribution. Instead, it is a way for the court to divide assets in a manner that considers each party’s earning capability, separate assets, and role in the marriage.
Under the lens of Virginia divorce law, courts classify property as either marital property or separate property. The law defines marital property as jointly-owned property and all other property obtained from marriage to separation. In contrast, separate property refers to property that belonged to only one party before their marriage. Property that was once separate property but then used for the benefit of the marriage may turn into marital property.
Common examples of marital property are the couple’s home titled in both spouse’s names or a retirement account accumulated during the marriage, even if the account only lists one spouse’s name. Further martial property may include vehicles, electronics, and business interests. Separate property includes items like cars given to one spouse, an inheritance, and separately maintained cash gifts from a third party. It is important to note that gifts from one spouse to the other are marital property.