New York Equitable Distribution Lawyer

Asset Distribution in New York Divorce

New York’s equitable distribution law governs the division of marital assets and liabilities in divorce cases. Unlike community property states where assets are typically divided equally, New York follows the principle of equitable distribution. This means that in the context of a divorce, any marital property (including assets and debts) is distributed in an “equitable” fashion, which, notably does not necessarily mean an equal distribution.

How Does Equitable Distribution Work in New York?

In New York, equitable distribution is the property distribution methodology used in divorces. In equitable distribution, marital property, including assets and debts, is divided in a fair (equitable) manner.

Identification of Assets

The first step in this the equitable distribution process is to identify the assets involved, which can be complex in a divorce case. The process of identifying assets is often a meticulous and strategic undertaking that serves as the foundation for equitable distribution and ensuring that property is divided. This process begins with a inventory of all assets, including tangible items like homes, vehicles, and furniture, as well as intangible assets such as bank accounts, stock options, retirement plans, cryptocurrency, and business interests. Equally important is the identification of all liabilities, including mortgages, loans, student loans and credit card debts, which are also subject to equitable distribution.

Classifying Assets – Marital vs Separate Property in New York

After identifying an asset, the next step is to determine whether the asset is “marital property” or “separate property.” Pursuant to statute, marital property is defined as “all property acquired by either or both spouses during the marriage and before the execution of a separation agreement or the commencement of a matrimonial action, regardless of the form in which title is held. . . .” By contrast, separate property has a far more narrow definition and includes only the following:

  • Property obtained prior to the marriage
  • Anything defined as separate property in a prenuptial agreement
  • Compensation for personal injuries
  • Inheritance

Based on the statute and various caselaw, there is a strong presumption that any property acquired during the marriage is considered marital property in a New York divorce. As such, assets and debts accumulated by either party during the marriage are presumed to be marital property and subject to equitable distribution, regardless of which spouse’s name is on the title or account. A spouse seeking to overcome the presumption of marital property must establish by clear and convincing evidence that the asset at issue is indeed separate property.

Valuation of Marital Assets

In a New York divorce, the evaluation of assets for equitable distribution involves a thorough and precise appraisal process to ensure a fair division of marital property. This essential phase of litigation includes detailing all assets acquired during the marriage, from real estate and vehicles to investments, retirement accounts, and even closely-held business interests. Each asset is then valued or appraised in some fashion to determine value – a task that frequently requires the expertise of financial analysts, real estate appraisers, and business valuation firms.

In valuing the marital assets, the goal is to provide an accurate accounting of the parties’ financial situation. Liabilities, including debts and obligations, are also evaluated to ensure a comprehensive understanding of the marital estate.

Valuation of assets may also include valuing the marital portion of an asset that otherwise has a separate property component. By way of example, a pension plan in which a party participated both prior to and during the marriage may have both a separate property component and a marital property component.

Equitable Distribution of Marital Property

The final step is the equitable distribution of marital property. The court (or a settlement agreement) will ultimately divide and apportion the various marital assets and debts between the parties. It is essential to note that the distribution process does not necessarily provide each party with equal assets. Instead, the law provides that the courts are to endeavor to equitably distribute assets, in accordance with Domestic Relations Law § 236 (b)(5)(d).

Proper distribution of pensions, 401(k) plans and other retirement accounts is a crucial component of any New York divorce case. Qualified Domestic Relations Orders (QDROs) are often utilized to properly distribute each party’s share of such accounts. A QDRO is a legal order served on a retirement plan administrator that outlines how various benefits will be divided between spouses in a divorce. It ensures that each party receives their share of the retirement benefits accumulated during the marriage directly from the retirement plan, without incurring tax penalties or early withdrawal fees.

Debts accumulated during the marriage are also subject to equitable distribution in New York divorce cases. These debts may include mortgages, credit card debt, and student loans. The court will consider factors such as who incurred the debt, the purpose of the debt, and each spouse’s ability to repay it when determining how to divide marital debts. In some cases, the court may order one spouse to assume responsibility for certain debts, while in others, the debts may be divided between the spouses based on their respective financial situations.

Factors Considered in Equitable Distribution

As set forth in Domestic Relations Law § 236(b), the various factors the Court is to consider in determining equitable distribution include:

  1. the income and property of each party at the time of marriage, and at the time of the commencement of the action;
  2. the duration of the marriage and the age and health of both parties;
  3. the need of a custodial parent to occupy or own the marital residence and to use or own its household effects;
  4. the loss of inheritance and pension rights upon dissolution of the marriage as of the date of dissolution;
  5. the loss of health insurance benefits upon dissolution of the marriage;
  6. any award of maintenance under subdivision six of this part;
  7. any equitable claim to, interest in, or direct or indirect contribution made to the acquisition of such marital property by the party not having title, including joint efforts or expenditures and contributions and services as a spouse, parent, wage earner and homemaker, and to the career or career potential of the other party. The court shall not consider as marital property subject to distribution the value of a spouse’s enhanced earning capacity arising from a license, degree, celebrity goodwill, or career enhancement. However, in arriving at an equitable division of marital property, the court shall consider the direct or indirect contributions to the development during the marriage of the enhanced earning capacity of the other spouse;
  8. the liquid or non-liquid character of all marital property;
  9. the probable future financial circumstances of each party;
  10. the impossibility or difficulty of evaluating any component asset or any interest in a business, corporation or profession, and the economic desirability of retaining such asset or interest intact and free from any claim or interference by the other party;
  11. the tax consequences to each party;
  12. the wasteful dissipation of assets by either spouse;
  13. any transfer or encumbrance made in contemplation of a matrimonial action without fair consideration;
  14. whether either party has committed an act or acts of domestic violence, as described in subdivision one of section four hundred fifty-nine-a of the social services law, against the other party and the nature, extent, duration and impact of such act or acts;
  15. in awarding the possession of a companion animal, the court shall consider the best interest of such animal. “Companion animal”, as used in this subparagraph, shall have the same meaning as in subdivision five of section three hundred fifty of the agriculture and markets law; and
  16. any other factor which the court shall expressly find to be just and proper.

New York Equitable Distribution Law FAQ

New York Equitable Distribution Lawyer

We are dedicated to helping our clients achieve the fair and equitable division of property that they deserve. Our team knows that a divorce is one of the most challenging experiences one can face and the distribution of property can be especially contentious.  You need skilled divorce representation protecting your interests at every stage of the divorce process. Contact us online today to schedule your free initial consultation to discuss protecting your property in a divorce and how we can help you secure the most favorable outcome in your equitable distribution case.  The attorneys at the Law Office of Louis L. Sternberg, P.C. proudly serve the Long Island legal communities. Call us now at 631-600-3295.

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