Equity vs. Equality: Make Sure you Know the Difference!

broken-heart-divorce-lawOften a couple’s only knowledge of divorce law is what he or she has heard from friends or family who has experienced a divorce, and/or media such as movies, websites, and television.

One of the most common misconceptions for a new divorce client is the idea that equity means equality. Equity, per Black’s Law dictionary, is “in its broadest and most general signification, this term denotes the spirit and the habit of fairness, justness, and right dealing…”. Equity then, can be understood as fairness, justness, and a sense of making things “right”. Equal on the other hand, per Black’s law dictionary, is summed up as follows “like, uniform; on the same plane or level with respect to efficiency, worth, value, amount, or rights.” Equality is 50-50, 2 to 2, etc. It can be understand as exactly the same.

Other than sounding similar, the words have very little in common. However, thanks to television shows where the wife threatens to take half of everything in the divorce, and in comedian skits where the husband states his ex-wife took her half and his too, it’s easy to see where most people think equal is the same as equitable.

Equity vs. Equality In Virginia Law

For a client in Virginia, it’s essential to understand the distinction between the two words and two concepts. Virginia is an equitable distribution state, in that all martial property and marital debt is up for grabs by each party, and should the parties not agree, a judge will make the final determination in who keeps the boat, who pays the Visa debt, and, how much alimony or spousal support payment is equitable. It means that one party may end up paying only $5,000 worth of marital debt while the other spouse is stuck paying $25,0000 in debt, because the court finds under the law that such a division is equitable. Virginia law gives trial courts much discretion in determining what is and what is not equitable.

As such, a client should strategize early and often with their attorney as to what marital assets and debts exist, and how the client wants to handle the possibility of settlement versus trial. A client will understand and tolerate (with less stress!) the entire process of divorce much better if they have a full understanding of equity versus equal early on the suit.  It helps manage expectations of trial, and can often be a good indicator of whether or not settlement is feasible.

In need of a divorce attorney? Have questions about property distribution? Contact Winslow & McCurry at 804.423.1382 to set up an appointment.