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Divorce Litigation Bullets Guide (Part 15): Equitable Distribution, Marital Effort, and Adultery

Man standing with an iron safe As a family law attorney, part of Mr. Shapiro’s role is to assist people from all walks of life in understanding their options regarding divorce and mediation. Unfortunately, divorce can be quite a complicated thing to understand, particularly for people who haven’t dealt with this aspect of family law before.

On this website, Mr. Shapiro shares articles intended to help you come to terms with the more complicated parts of the divorce process. These shorter guides combine multiple articles together to answer quick questions about divorce litigation in an easy-to-follow manner.

Today’s section of the guide will cover information on equitable distribution, the things that change how a court divides marital assets, and what kind of impact adultery has on divorce.

Defining Equitable Distribution in Litigation

The New York courts aren’t required to split assets between a couple 50/50, instead, they use a process called equitable distribution to divide marital assets according to what they deem to be fair and just. There are various factors that come into the consideration of what’s fair when distributing assets and debts between divorcing spouses.

  • The New York courts consider various factors when choosing an “equitable” way to split assets. For instance, the role that each person played in the marriage is important, as is the amount of effort they put into supporting the family. The income earning potential, education, age, and health of each spouse might also be relevant in making these choices.
  • Courts come to a decision about how to divide both debts and assets based on what they believe is fair for both parties. Notably, the equitable distribution process only considers how to split marital assets. Separate assets and debts that belong to the individual are not part of this process.
  • It’s not just physical items and real estate that are subject to equitable distribution. Things like pension assets can also be subject to this process. However, it is only the pension benefits accrued during the marriage period that usually need consideration. Benefits built before the marriage can be defined as separate property.
What Might Impact Equitable Distribution

As mentioned above, the courts look at a variety of things when making decisions about the equitable distribution of assets. For instance, the efforts and contributions of each spouse when it comes to looking after the family home may be a relevant concept.

  • The courts of New York understand that a person who wasn’t working in a marriage wasn’t necessarily failing to contribute to the home. Partners who looked after the home, children, or elderly parents can still be seen as contributing to the family in other ways. Courts look at efforts and contributions in a range of ways.
  • In one case, the courts of New York said that the effort made by each spouse to care for the household and family should be crucial in equitable distribution orders. Contributions that don’t always fall into the financial section of the consideration can still be valuable.
  • The courts also agree that when a person’s individual assets excel in value due to contributions bade by the other spouse, the increase in value may be looked at as a marital asset. For instance, if one person improves and builds the value of their business because their spouse is looking after to the children at home, then an attorney like Darren M Shapiro could argue that the contributions of the home-maker helped to increase the value of the business. This is called a “sweat equity” argument.
Domestic Violence Can but Does Adultery Change Equitable Distribution?

As Mr. Shapiro reminds his clients, the positive behavior of a spouse, such as looking after a home, can influence the way that the courts choose to distribute assets. At the same time, you may wonder whether negative behaviors can influence the way that assets are shared among spouses. For instance, is proof of adultery a reason to change distribution decisions?

  • Since 2010, the court of New York has allowed for no-fault divorces. However, the courts also have the scope to consider anything they believe to be relevant when they’re making decisions about child support, equitable distribution, and alimony. In most cases, the courts will deem that marital faults like adultery shouldn’t be enough to change equitable distribution decisions on their own.
  • There are situations where in very specific cases, the courts may consider negative behavior in certain decisions. If a case has an impact on the court conscience, this could influence the way that decisions are made. However, assigning fault in a particular situation can be a difficult process.
  • Without additional factors, adultery won’t usually stand out as an egregious misconduct in the eyes of the New York Court. However, you could make an argument with a divorce attorney like Mr. Shapiro that a spouse committing adultery wasted marital assets on the affair. This could be a reason that the other spouse deserves more.
  • However, in 2020 the law did change that domestic violence must now be specifically considered in fashioning an equitable distribution award.

If you have questions about the topics covered above, you can find more information on this website, or reach out to Mr. Darren Shapiro for your free consultation. Get in touch either through the phone at (516) 333-6555 or contact Mr. Shapiro through he form on this website.

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