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How does the court decide how marital property will be split?

On Behalf of | Mar 28, 2024 | Divorce |

In New York divorce cases, spouses will frequently get into disagreements over property. Some states use the community property template where all property is shared equally among the partners whether it was marital or separate. New York does not do that. Like most states across the nation, it uses the equitable distribution model. That means the marital property will be divided in a way that is considered fair. Fair is not always equal.

Still, it is important for people to know the law regarding marital property as there is nuance that can make it confusing and lead to unexpected results. Of course, it is preferable for the sides to come to their own agreement and settle matters amicably. For some where the sides are acrimonious or there is a vast portfolio of property, this is not possible.

The court will consider various factors when splitting marital property

To achieve fairness, the court looks at myriad issues related to the marriage. That includes the financial circumstances when they got married and when they decided to divorce. For example, if one person had substantially more assets when the couple was getting married, this could be a key factor in deciding the to find a reasonable solution when dividing property amassed during the marriage.

It will also look at how long the couple was married. If it was a short marriage and there was a limited amount of property accrued while they were married, the court might simply decide to let each side walk away with their own property from before the marriage and split whatever they did garner while they were married in an even way. A longer marriage with an older couple could be decided differently.

Children add another factor into the equation. The parent who is requesting custody might want to retain the marital home to limit the disruption the child will endure because of the parents getting divorced. If the non-custodial parent owned the property beforehand, the custodial parent can buy them out; they can live there as part of the support agreement; or another solution can be worked out.

For some couples, the divorce means that one person will lose their health care coverage. This is common in situations where they were on the spouse’s employment-based plan and they are a homemaker or have a job that does not provide health care coverage. The court can use that as it makes its decision on how to equitably distribute marital property.

A key part of the process to consider is if a person contributed to the increased value of property during the marriage. For example, perhaps one person has a business and they built it to where it is a success. The other person does not own the business, but they took part in it being built and grew by providing support, helping with how it is run or by simply taking care of the house while the person running the business was free to do so without distraction. The same is true for a home that could have risen in value because the non-owning spouse did maintenance or home improvements.

In contentious cases, one person could intentionally waste property and assets. The court will look at the accusations and circumstances and could adjust its award accordingly. Other issues that will be factored in include the possibility that there was domestic violence.

Be prepared for the complexities of property division

Property division can be one of the most difficult aspects of a divorce. This is true no matter the financial situation. Perhaps the couple is wealthy and wants to retain as much as possible. Or there could be items of significant value. One person could claim that despite the other person owning a property prior to the marriage, technically making it separate property, they contributed to its increase in value and should therefore receive a portion of it. In these cases, it is important to be prepared and have a clear objective in mind as the case proceeds to try and achieve a reasonable outcome.