What Is a Wife Entitled to in a Divorce Settlement?
Sharing is an important part of marriage. But what happens in divorce? A properly negotiated settlement splits shared assets and debts equally, so a wife isn’t automatically entitled to more than her husband. But local rules and specific marital details could alter that distribution.
Understanding a wife’s property rights
A divorce involves splitting an estate into two parts. Each side gets something, and no one gets everything.
The following four categories are part of most divorce negotiations:
1. Shared property
Items people purchase during the marriage are typically considered community property. A wife could be entitled to half of the value of things such as the following:
Wives may also be entitled to parts of a partner’s retirement accounts, such as IRAs or pension plans if funds earned during the marriage were entered into these savings plans.
2. Private property
Items gathered before the marriage are typically considered private property. A wife entering the marriage with an inheritance stowed in a separate bank account might leave with all of the cash unless she commingled it with her spouse's money during the marriage. For example, if the wife put the funds in a joint checking account, her spouse could claim the funds became part of their shared estate.
In 2023, American credit card debt surpassed $1 trillion. During a divorce, people must decide who pays the bills left behind. While few spouses want to be entitled to debts, they may be legally responsible for them.
Debts incurred during the marriage are typically shared by both parties. That said, if one person committed financial adultery and ran up charges deceptively, one could argue for a smaller slice of the final bill. But an even split is typically expected for people who spent money equally during the marriage.
4. Future income
Spousal support, also known as alimony, can help a wife set up a new household after divorce. Payments can compensate a partner who lost work opportunities or career advancement due to supporting the other party during a marriage. Alimony can also help a wife maintain a standard of living she’s become accustomed to while she rebuilds her life.
In close to 30% of marriages, both people earn about the same amount of money. But in those with an inequality, alimony could be expected. If the wife earned more than her partner, she may have to pay spousal support after divorce.
State laws can complicate your plans
All states have laws that dictate property splits during divorce. Where you live when your paperwork is filed could have a deep impact on what you’re entitled to in your final settlement.
Your state laws could complicate the following questions:
- Timing: In some states, people stop accruing shared property when they declare their intention to split. In others, they keep adding to the shared pot until their divorce is final.
- Shared vs. private property: In some states, property acquired by one member is theirs alone unless it’s specifically put in the names of both people. In others, anything acquired during the marriage automatically becomes community property.
- Length of alimony: States like Texas typically restrict spousal support. People can use payments for short periods to get an education or a new job, but they can’t expect support indefinitely. Other states don’t have these rules.
It’s crucial to understand how your state dictates divorce settlements. If you ask for terms that aren’t legal in your location, your plans could get thrown out by a judge. Take the time to confirm the specifics, so you know what to expect and how to file.
Do wives always get a 50/50 split?
People don’t always split their assets and debts in half. While most states ask for plans involving an equitable distribution of marital property, what is fair can vary. Equitable distribution doesn’t necessarily mean equal.
Courts can use the following factors to determine what makes a split fair:
- Length of the marriage
- Value of the estate
- Contributions of each party
- Earning capacity
- Ages of both people
Young people married for brief periods might end a marriage with the assets they had when they entered and little more. But older people with decades of sharing can have more complex arrangements and assets to split.
While a 50/50 split is fair for one set of people, it could mean disaster for the other. Courts can examine these factors before ruling on your final divorce settlement.
Working toward an equitable divorce settlement
You’re not required to work with a court to split your estate fairly. You can negotiate directly with your partner and develop equitable settlement plans yourself.
Start with a clear understanding of your estate. What do you own? What do you owe? What property is truly yours? What belongs to the both of you? Make a clear list of all assets and debt.
When you understand your assets and debts clearly, start trading. Perhaps you keep the vacation home and give up the family house. Perhaps you keep all the furniture and trade away the car.
Most people have assets they’re desperate to keep during the divorce. Negotiating in good faith, ensuring that you both get at least something you want, can help you develop plans you both can live with for the long term.
While neither party will get everything they want, you’re more likely to get your high-priority items if you are willing to give up certain things that don’t fall as high on your list. Flexibility and a willingness to compromise always ensure a shorter and less stressful divorce process.
ReferencesCommunity Property States 2023. World Population Review.
Americans’ Credit Card Debt Hits a Record $1 Trillion. (August 2023). CNN.
In a Growing Share of U.S. Marriages, Husbands and Wives Earn About the Same. (April 2023). Pew Research Center.
Marital Property. Cornell Law School.
How Bread-Winning Women Are Driving Alimony Reform. (November 2015). Reuters.