One of the most interesting aspects of the United States is that each individual state has the ability to make its own laws. Sure – this can lead to serious variation between states, but it also allows people to have a say in how issues are handled in their local areas. Among other things, divorce law is highly varied between states. Perhaps most notably, some states choose to follow a system of “community property” while others engage in “equitable distribution.” But which of these systems is more effective from an objective point of view?

Community Property is By Far a Simpler System: But Does This Mean it is “Better?”

First of all, community property is by far the simpler system. There is far less to consider when you’re simply slicing everything down the middle. There are no additional factors to think about that might affect the “equity” of the situation, and the process can be handled with the stroke of a pen. Fault does not come into play for the most part, which means that you don’t have spouses hurling accusations at each other in the hopes of a financial advantage. 

But does this mean that community property is a “better” system? There are definitely merits to simplicity. A simple system is a less time-consuming system, and there is something undeniably satisfying about having clear, absolute laws that leave little up to interpretation. 

On the other hand, the community property system can be devastating for spouses who lose half their assets without even having the chance to have their say in court. What if they were cheated on? What if their spouse sat at home and played video games all day while they worked 12-hour shifts? Is it really fair for this lazy spouse to receive half of everything? These questions are not even raised in community property states, and fault simply does not factor into the discussion.

Some critics say that the community property system encourages people to marry for money rather than love. But there are many ways to get around issues posed by the community property system, such as a prenuptial agreement. In the end, all marriages are simply legal agreements to share property in the modern era – whether you’re in a community property state or an equitable distribution state. Although there may be some religious aspects to marriage for some spouses, individuals must remember that in the eyes of the law, marriages can be summed up as legal agreements to share property. In a community property state, marriage represents an agreement to give away roughly 50% of all assets acquired during the course of the marriage (unless you create a prenuptial agreement that says otherwise). 

The Best Option is Almost Always to Settle Out of Court

Of course, there is a third option that is arguably better than either community property or equitable distribution. We are talking, of course, about settling a divorce out of court. This option lets spouses sidestep state laws and make their own decisions about how they handle their divorce. This cuts down on confusion and makes the debate between community property and equitable distribution largely irrelevant.