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What Does the Legal Term "Equitable" Mean?

"Equitable" is typically used to in relation to the outcome, or desired outcome, of a case.
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  • Written By: G. Wiesen
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 14 September 2014
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“Equitable,” in legal usage, refers to something that is deemed to be equal and fair in relation to two or more parties involved in a particular instance. This term is usually used to refer to the outcome, or desired outcome, of a case, and indicates that not only equality but also fairness was utilized. Someone with a great deal of money paying the same amount for a fine as someone with very little money may be equal, but it is not necessarily fair. Equitable, therefore, refers to legal practices in which fairness is imparted to equality to create an outcome that is considered balanced.

A decision is said to be equitable when it is considered both fair and equal for those involved. In divorce proceedings, for example, equitable division of possessions and resources is often utilized rather than an equal division. An equal division of resources would mean that half of all resources would be given to each of the people in the marriage, with no further consideration for each party, which may not necessarily be fair. When an equitable division is utilized instead, the potential earnings and future income of each party are also considered, which often results in alimony or other compensation being paid by one party to the other.

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The term “equitable” is also used in association with the legal concept of “equity” as it differs from law. A court of equity is a court that is separate from a court of law and follows a tradition with roots in the English common law system. This type of court can function in a manner similar to a court of law, but usually has somewhat different powers and may grant an injunction rather than compensation. The ruling from such a court may be considered equitable since it is typically intended to redress grievances in a more direct manner.

When a court of law hears a case in which one person has accused another of stealing his or her property, then the ruling is typically a reward of financial compensation if the accuser wins the case. While this may be satisfactory in some cases, the compensation may not ultimately be desired, and the accuser may instead wish to have his or her property returned. A court of equity can order an injunction that would require the return of the stolen property, rather than merely a financial redress. This injunction may be considered more equitable since the original property is returned, rather than merely a financial amount deemed appropriate for the property.

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