State laws on asset division in divorce work according to the equitable distribution approach, in which a court will split marital property according to the interests of fairness. Marital debts are also divided in this manner. Therefore, property division is a two-step process.
1. It is first necessary to classify real estate and personal property as marital or separate, and the same analysis applies to debts. Only assets acquired during the marriage are subject to equitable distribution, so each party keeps items that they owned before the wedding date. Also, inheritances and gifts to one individual are considered separate assets.
2. The court will review the nature and value of marital property to split the items between the parties. Equity is the goal, so asset division may not be an exact 50-50 split.