When a couple divorces in New York, judges divide property equitably, which can result in an equal property division, but not doesn't always. Instead, the basis for an equitable property division is what a judge determines is fair, considering what each spouse contributed to the marriage and what each spouse will need to move forward.
This article answers some common questions about New York's equitable distribution system. For more information, see the article New York Divorce: Dividing Property.
Equitable distribution is a method for dividing a married couple's property when they divorce. Prior to the adoption of equitable distribution in New York, New York was a "common law property" state—meaning, the court distributed the property owned by either spouse in the divorce according to who held the title. If only one spouse's name appeared on the title, that spouse received the property.
New York is now an equitable distribution state. When a spouse files for divorce, the court must divide marital property equitably or fairly. But equitable doesn't necessarily require an equal split of the couple's assets. Instead, the judge will strive for a fair outcome, considering:
Under New York's divorce laws, courts only divide marital property, and spouses gets to keep their separate property.
Marital property includes all property acquired by either or both spouses during the marriage, regardless of who bought it. Examples of marital property include:
Courts do not divide separate property when a couple divorces. Instead, each spouse gets to keep their own separate property, except to the extent that the other spouse contributed to the property's increase in value. Separate property includes:
Yes. Businesses, professional practices, and enhanced earning capacity attributable to the attainment of a career, or professional license, educational degree, profession, or license is "property" the court will divide using equitable distribution in a divorce. However, as noted above, interests in a business or career may be challenging to divide, or it may be undesirable to do so.
In this situation, the court will typically award the actual business or practice to the spouse who is running it, and award the other spouse other property to make up the difference. (N.Y. Dom. Rel. § 236.)
In most cases, divorcing couples can reach an agreement on property division that meets both spouses' needs. The courts encourage couples to work together to decide how to split assets and debts. Generally, the judge will approve a settlement agreement if it's fair to both spouses.
However, if you can't agree on how to divide marital assets, the judge will determine whether each piece of property or debt belongs in the "marital" or "separate" categories and will then divide the estate using the above-listed factors. If the couple signed a prenuptial agreement before the wedding, the court must adhere to the provisions in the contract.
If you'd like to negotiate a property settlement with your spouse, you can contact a mediator or arbitrator for help before you ask the court to decide for you.