Most states follow the equitable distribution method. Generally, this method provides that courts divide assets in a fair and equitable manner. Some equitable distribution states look to the conduct of the parties and permit findings of marital fault to affect property distribution. In others only fault relating to economic welfare is relevant in property distribution. Yet other states entirely exclude marital misconduct from consideration in disposition property. Equitable distribution rules give the court considerable discretion in which to divide property between the parties. The courts consider the joint assets held by the parties and separate assets that the parties either brought with them into the marriage or inherited or received as gifts during the marriage. Generally, if the separate property is kept separate during the marriage and not commingled with joint assets, then the court will recognize that it belongs separately to the individual spouse and will not divide it along with the marital assets.
Equitable distribution states consider contributions (often including homemaker contributions) by each spouse made to the marriage. If one party made a greater contribution, the court may grant that person more of the joint assets. Some states do not consider a professional degree earned by one spouse during the marriage to be a joint asset but do acknowledge any financial support contributed by the other spouse and let that be reflected in the property distribution. Other states do consider a professional degree or license to be a joint marital asset and have devised various ways to distribute it or its benefits.