The divorce process differs from state to state. Besides differences in procedural matters like filing fees and waiting periods, states have different rules for how family court judges divide the divorcing couple’s assets.

Most states, including Minnesota, use “equitable distribution” when the spouses cannot settle on a property division agreement on their own. Equitable distribution should not be confused with “equal” property division, where each spouse automatically gets half of the money, valuables and personal property.

In this context, “equitable” means fair. What is fair can be very different for each particular couple. It could mean a roughly even distribution, or it could mean that one spouse gets most of the assets. Only property deemed “marital property,” or things acquired during the marriage, is generally subject to property division.

Instead of equitable distribution, 10 states follow “community property” guidelines. In those states, the court divides the couple’s assets into community property and separate property. The community property usually gets divided up about evenly; the spouses keep their separate property.

In those states, community property generally means assets or debts acquired during the marriage. Separate property refers to things that an individual spouse owned before the marriage, along with some forms of gift, inheritance and pension. Property acquired in exchange for separate property is, itself, separate property.

Things purchased with a combination of community and separate property will likely be treated as community property, though there is no guarantee of this.

To some, divorce in an equitable distribution state like Minnesota may seem like more of an art than a science. Whether a spouse reaches a settlement with his or her ex, or the matter goes before the judge, it is recommended to have an attorney serve as your advisor and advocate.