Equitable distribution is the the process by which a court in North Carolina identifies, classifies, values and divides property between spouses. Prior to new laws being enacted in 1981 by the general assembly, North Carolina was a common law “title” jurisdiction with regard to property distribution after divorce. Property was allocated after divorce to the party holding title, a disposition that “tended to reward the spouse directly responsible for its acquisition, while overlooking the contribution of the homemaking spouse.”  This meant that before property went to whichever spouse had legal title at the time of divorce. For example, if a spouse owned a car in her name, even if it was purchased during the marriage with marital money, it would go to the spouse who’s name was on the title.
In 1984 the NC Court of appeals explained the rationale of the legislature: “Our equitable distribution statute, G.S. 50-20, was enacted in recognition of marriage as a partnership, economic and otherwise, to which both parties contribute either directly or indirectly. By enacting G.S. 50-20, our Legislature granted courts the power to consider factors other than legal title in distributing the marital assets upon the dissolution of the marriage thereby permitting courts to make an equitable distribution which effects a return to each party of that which he or she contributed to the marriage. As we interpret it, the policy behind G.S. 50-20 is basically one of repayment of contribution.” Hinton v. Hinton, 70 N.C.App. 665, 668-69, 321 S.E.2d 161 (1984). Since the enactment of equitable distribution law in North Carolina, the courts and general assembly have been working to interpret and clarify the law.  Today, equitable distribution is one of the most complex ares of North Carolina family law.   ____________________ Raleigh lawyerScott Allen handles property distribution and all other types of family law matters and has over seventeen years of experience.   If you have questions or need assistance call him at (919) 863-4183 or email at sallen@allenspence.com.