“I’m thinking about getting divorced. What is my wife entitled to?” The answer depends on where you live. Most community property states distribute marital property 50/50 between the two parties. Each person gets to keep any separate (not marital) property. Equitable distribution states divide all assets and income accumulated throughout the marriage in an equitable manner. However, this does not necessarily mean equal distribution.
Divorce and Financial Issues: What is My Entitlement?
During the divorce process, couples must discuss and resolve three financial issues:
- Child support
- Spousal support or alimony
- Distribution of marital debts and assets, depending upon the state—community property or equitable distribution
Ideally, child support provides enough money to prevent your children from suffering financially. However, reaching an agreement poses challenges. Most states have guidelines for child support. However, online child support calculators usually show only the minimum amounts allowable by law. As a result, they may not reflect your individual situation.
States may use different methodology to calculate child support. The courts determine child support based on one of three models:
- Income-sharing model
- Income-percentage-of-obligor guidelines model
- Melson formula (only in Delaware, Montana, and Hawaii)
Raising children requires sufficient income to cover extraordinary expenses not included in the child support guidelines. These may include any or all the following:
- Daycare costs
- Summer camp
- Back-to-school shopping
- In-school and after-school activities (band and orchestra sports, clubs)
- School special events (dances or prom)
- Computers necessary for school or college
- College expenses
- Dental expenses such as braces
- Auto insurance for a minor with a license
- Mobile phone service
Alimony or Spousal Support
Discussions regarding spousal support or alimony often result in contentious arguments. In the United States, all states allow for alimony, although no standard formula exists for calculating amounts. Most legal practitioners subscribe to the idea that both husband and wife are entitled to maintain the lifestyles they enjoyed as a couple. Make sure your agreement does not allow one of you to live in luxury while the other struggles to make ends meet.
Division of Marital Debt and Assets
Little guidance exists regarding the distribution of marital assets and debts. Forty-one of 50 states use equitable distribution, a process allowing the parties to reach mutual agreements they believe are fair. This does not necessarily mean equal distribution. Even in the nine community property states, couples are entitled to decide for themselves who gets which marital assets and debts.
Equal Access to the Children
Gone are the days when the courts would automatically award women full custody of the children. Fathers had little right to protest the decision. Most states today favor joint custody, either legal or physical. Physical joint custody may not always be possible. The divorce lawyers can work out a schedule that provides the ex-spouse to remain involved in their children’s lives. When joint physical custody is not possible, the couple may opt for joint legal. The agreement defines when and how often the children will spend time with the non-custodial parent.
Your wife is entitled to fair treatment when it comes to both monetary and non-monetary aspects of the divorce. She should not have to fight for basic rights such as:
- seeing her children
- having “me time” while her ex has the children on a regular schedule
- speaking with her children when they are with their father
- fair communication without argument
- defense against abuse, both physical or emotional
- legal counsel
Abuse includes, among other things, false accusations affecting her ability to obtain custody and/or visitation with her children. The father cannot accuse the mother of abuse or neglect to gain full custody of the children, rather than joint custody as many states prefer.
Your wife is also entitled to legal counsel if available through your workplace or a private legal plan. In some cases, you may be held responsible for both of your legal costs.
Access to a Vehicle
If your wife had full access to a vehicle during the marriage, the court may allow her to retain it even without her name on the title. However, this does not mean she may keep it free and clear. If the vehicle has a lien against it, the court may order her to obtain a loan to cover the balance in her own name. In extenuating circumstances, the court might order you to make the payments. Your wife may have always had ownership of a certain vehicle and needs it for work or to transport the children to doctors, daycare, and school. The court may order the vehicle remain with your wife, whether jointly owned or only in your name.
Communication with the Children
Your wife is entitled to communication with her children when they are with you. You must provide a telephone number to for her to call and speak with the children while they are away. If you block your wife’s number or refuse to allow the children to speak with her, the court may find you in contempt for withholding communication.
Knowledge of Children’s Whereabouts
Your wife is entitled to know where her children are at all times when outside the normal vicinity of your home. For example, if you live in the same state and want to take them out of state for more than an hour or so, you must notify your wife and provide a telephone number and address. A cell phone will suffice for a telephone. This also pertains to the mother.
Facts Concerning Divorce Law
While some aspects of divorce are the same or similar, others vary depending on the state in which the petition the petitioner files. These differing laws extend beyond whether the state is a common property state or equitable distribution state. While all states allow no-fault divorce, only 17 states allow at-fault. According to NOLO, the other 33 states have specific conditions under which a couple can file a fault divorce. It is possible for the the spouse of the filing party to contest the action under certain conditions.
The process of divorce varies from state to state. Everything the couple acquired during marriage, with a few exceptions, is subject to equal distribution in the nine community property states. In the other 41 equitable distribution states, marital property is equitably but not always evenly distributed. Thirty-three of the 50 states allow an at-fault divorce filing. The other 17 are strictly no-fault states. No-fault means there is no need for a specific reason for filing for divorce.
Legal-Yogi Can Help.
Legal Yogi can help you with any questions you may have about divorce. You will find many articles that can help you gain an understanding of the process, and we can even help you find a divorce lawyer licensed to practice family law where you live.
This website has some great charts on divorce statistics. See
For information regarding equitable distribution statutes and statistics, see