During a divorce, the terms and rights of two spouses are determined through a marital settlement agreement, according to LegalZoom. Settlement agreements typically cover any relevant issues pertaining to the divorce, such as division of property, spousal or child support, and child custody or visitation rights.
State laws vary with regards to divorce settlement, but most states follow equitable distribution laws, advises LegalZoom. In these cases, property is divided in a fair and equitable manner between the two parties. There are no set rules that determine what or how much each spouse receives; the division is based on factors such as the earning contributions of each spouse as well as the contributions by each to the family and home.
By contrast, in states that observe community property laws, each spouse is considered an equal owner of all income or property acquired during the marriage, reports LegalZoom. This is true even if only one spouse was employed during the marriage. Likewise, they share all debt evenly, and both spouses are equally liable. Additionally, vested and accrued retirement benefits that fall under community property need to be split, including IRAs, 401(k) plans and employee stock options.
In states that follow community property law, anything that falls under separate property is retained by the original owner, states LegalZoom. Separate property is considered to be anything owned prior to the marriage, inherited or received as a gift during the marriage, or anything earned after the date of separation.