Equitable Distribution in New Jersey

You’re standing on a precipice. Behind you lies a life that you knew, a life carefully entwined with someone else’s. Ahead of you stretches an uncertain future shrouded in a haze of confusion and endless questions. The most pressing among them – “How will our marital assets be divided?”

This is a common path on the journey of separation or divorce. It’s not just about dividing numbers on a balance sheet but also disentangling years of shared dreams, investments, and decisions. These uncharted waters can be awfully challenging to understand, which is where sound legal advice based on your unique needs comes into play.

At Keith Family Law, we are your beacon in the fog, your compass when the path is unclear. We understand the intricacies of New Jersey’s equitable distribution laws and strive to ensure that the equitable distribution is fair, transparent, and considerate of your unique circumstances.

The equitable distribution doesn’t have to feel like a leap into the unknown. With Keith Family Law by your side, you’ll find solid ground beneath your feet as you step boldly toward your new future.

Understanding Equitable Distribution in NJ

Equitable distribution in New Jersey is the legal principle used to divide marital assets and debts during a divorce. Unlike community property states where assets are split equally, in New Jersey, equitable doesn’t necessarily mean equal. Instead, the courts must reach for a division that is fair and just, considering the circumstances of each party. The court’s decision is based on various factors and involves multiple types of properties owned by both parties.

Property That May Be Divided Under NJ Law

  • Marital Home
  • Other Real Estate
  • Personal Property
  • Financial Assets
  • Retirement Assets
  • Business Interests
  • Intellectual Property
  • Insurance Policies
  • Deferred Compensation
  • Educational Degrees or Professional Licenses
  • Debts
  • Tax Refunds or Liabilities
  • Personal Injury Settlements
  • Automobiles
  • Jewelry and Collections

What Factors Affect the Results of an Asset Division?

When it comes to dividing assets during a divorce or separation, many factors come into play. Understanding these factors can help you navigate the complex process and potentially achieve a more favorable outcome. Here are the key considerations:

  • Length of the Marriage: The duration of the marriage often influences the equitable distribution. Generally, a longer marriage may lead to a more equal distribution of assets, considering the shared life, investments, and contributions over time.
  • Economic Circumstances: The court considers each spouse’s economic circumstances, including income, earning capacity, and future financial needs. This assessment helps ensure that asset division doesn’t leave one party in financial hardship.
  • Contribution to the Marital Estate: This includes financial contributions (income, investments) and non-financial contributions (childcare, homemaking, career sacrifices). A spouse who has made significant contributions may receive a larger share of the assets.
  • Health and Age: The health and age of each spouse can impact asset division, especially when it comes to retirement assets or if one spouse has significant healthcare needs.
  • Custody of Children: If one spouse has primary custody of the children, they may receive a larger share of the marital home or other assets to minimize disruption for the children.
  • Tax Consequences: The potential tax implications of dividing certain assets can also influence the outcome. For instance, distributing retirement assets can trigger tax liabilities.
  • Debts: Outstanding debts are also divided during this process. Who incurred the debt and why can influence who is responsible for repayment.
  • Prenuptial or Postnuptial Agreements: If a valid prenuptial or postnuptial agreement exists, it can significantly impact the equitable distribution.

Navigating Hidden Assets

In a perfect world, both parties would disclose all their assets. Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case. If you suspect your spouse is hiding assets, start by gathering all financial documents, such as bank statements, tax returns, and business records. Look for inconsistencies or suspicious transactions. Hiring a forensic accountant may be beneficial as they specialize in uncovering hidden assets in complex financial situations. It’s also important to inform your attorney about your suspicions so they can take appropriate legal steps, such as filing discovery requests or subpoenas to obtain further information. Keith Family Law can help you navigate these hidden assets.

Case Study: Jamie and Denise — Equitable Distribution in New Jersey

Jamie and Denise are a married couple residing in New Jersey who have decided to get a divorce. They’ve been married for seven years and have no children. Their case involves various assets and debts that must be fairly distributed under New Jersey’s equitable distribution laws.


  1. New Jersey Residence: in 2019, Jamie and Denise purchased a home in New Jersey that is now valued at $1,300,000. They have a mortgage of $750,000 in their joint names, leaving equity of $550,000 to be divided. The court will also need to address the mortgage on their New Jersey house. If they can settle amicably and one of them decides to keep the residence, they will have to address refinancing the mortgage to remove the other’s name.  Jamie’s parents contributed $100,000 to the down payment of their New Jersey home.  Jamie wants a credit for this contribution, which will be a subject of equitable distribution negotiations.
  2. New York City Apartment: Denise owns an apartment in Manhattan with a value of $800,000. This property was Denise’s before the marriage, but Jamie’s parents contributed $75,000 during the marriage to remodel the property. Jamie will want to discuss this contribution during equitable distribution negotiations and may ask Denise for reimbursement.
  3. Joint Investment Account: Jamie and Denise share an investment account with an approximate value of $500,000. The account is a mixture of cash, stocks, and mutual funds. Jamie wants the cash, and Denise is interested in keeping the securities.  The account itself is Denise’s premarital account, which had a value of about $50,000 when Denise and Jamie were married.  Jamie contributed to this joint account from gifts given to her alone by her parents in the amount of $75,000.  If they are able to settle amicably, with the help of their experienced divorce attorneys they may be able to work out an arrangement that addresses these interests.
  4. Stock Options and Deferred Compensation: Denise has an executive position at a Fortune 500 company in New York City that awards her stock options and other deferred compensation such as restricted stock units and bonuses based on her performance and that of the company. Denise earned some of these items during the marriage, some she earned prior to the marriage, and some she will be awarded after the marriage is over but for efforts that she put into the company during the marriage. Denise’s stock options and deferred compensation will likely be subject to equitable distribution, and their values will be assessed to determine Jamie’s share.
  5. Denise’s Pension: Denise also has a pension, which must be valued for equitable distribution purposes in New Jersey. Some of the pension she earned prior to the marriage, and some she will earn after the marriage end date under New Jersey divorce law (which is not the same as the date of the Final Judgment of Divorce). Denise believes she should be able to keep the entire pension, but Jamie points out that at least part of it was earned during the marriage and is subject to equitable distribution.  If they are able to settle amicably, Denise may be able to trade something else in equitable distribution in exchange for Jamie’s portion of her pension.
  6. Vehicles: Denise drives a leased car, while Jamie drives an SUV that has been financed in their joint names. The leased car and financed SUV will be evaluated in terms of ownership and responsibility for payment.
  7. Jamie’s Business: Jamie started an online business about three years before Denise filed for divorce.  Jamie runs it by herself, along with a virtual assistant.  It is successful in both Jamie’s and Denise’s eyes, but they both have questions as to what the business is worth and how much value Denise would be entitled to under the laws of equitable distribution in New Jersey.  Jamie believes Denise should not receive much in equitable distribution at all, since Denise does not have an active role in the business.  A court will need to make these determinations and decide what happens with the business.  If Jamie and Denise are able to settle amicably, Jamie would like to keep the business and offset whatever may be Denise’s share against another asset.


  1. Credit Card Debt: There is $45,000 in credit card debt, primarily consisting of Denise’s expenses traveling out of town for work and vacations with friends. Jamie believes that Denise should bear the majority of this debt, since Denise has a high earning capability and Jamie did not receive the benefit of certain expenses that were charged to the cards. This will be an issue to be discussed in equitable distribution negotiations.
  2. Denise’s student loans: Denise has $150,000 in student loans that she incurred in part during the marriage, and in part before the marriage. Jamie believes Denise should pay them all, and Denise believes Jamie should contribute since it was Denise’s higher education that supported their lifestyle during the marriage and they agreed that Denise should continue her education.  The Court will address this issue under New Jersey divorce law in equitable distribution of marital assets and debts.

Additional Information:

  1. Jamie’s Disability and Lack of Savings During the Marriage: Shortly after their marriage began, Jamie became permanently disabled and does not work. She has not been able to accumulate any savings in her own name. Denise does not believe she should be required to share in her own savings that she was able to accumulate during the marriage. While Denise’s position is emotionally understandable, dividing the savings that Denise accumulated during the marriage will be an issue in equitable distribution under New Jersey divorce law. 

In addition, Jamie’s disability and lack of income (and Denise’s ability to earn and accumulate savings) may be taken into account when determining the equitable distribution.

Learn More About Equitable Distribution in New Jersey

Ultimately, the goal of the equitable distribution process is to ensure that both parties receive a fair and just share of the assets and debts acquired during the marriage, taking into account their unique circumstances and contributions. Consulting with an experienced divorce and family law firm in New Jersey will be essential for Jamie and Denise to navigate this complex process and achieve a fair resolution. So look to Keith Family Law for equitable distribution support in New Jersey. Contact us today!

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