New York and its equitable property distribution law

Part of going through the divorce process is deciding what you and your spouse are going to keep and this can lead to disputes that end up in front of a judge, especially if you or your spouse feels that the division is unfair. In the state of New York, marital property is not divided exactly down the middle, as you might expect. This is because New York is known as an equitable distribution state.

What is equitable distribution?

Equitable distribution is not just simply dividing all marital property down the middle. Other factors can also play a part in how property is distributed. For example, if you have been the spouse that stays at home while the other spouse pursues a successful career, you can use your contributions as a factor in the property division process. Perhaps you cared for your children, paid the bills and took care of the day-to-day tasks. While you may not have earned a salary, your efforts enabled your spouse to make a living.

After a judge takes into account these factors, plus your education level, your ability to support yourself and the financial situation of you and your spouse, he may decide to issue to you over half of the marital assets or less than half, depending on what he or she feels is best.

Compiling a complete list of marital property

In order to ensure that you receive a fair distribution, you should take the time to compile a list of all marital property owned by you and your spouse. In order to make sure that you do not overlook something, you should understand the difference between separate and marital property.

Essentially, property that you owned before you were married, any inheritances you received, gifts or legal judgments for a personal property lawsuit are considered separate property. However, if you have added your spouse's name to a property, or vice versa, then the property has likely become marital property according to Forbes.

All other property is considered marital property and this includes:

  • Life insurance policies
  • Retirement plans
  • Commissions or bonuses
  • Investments

Furthermore, if your spouse purchased a property before the marriage, but that property has gained in value, you may be able to put a claim on the increase itself. Even tax returns can be included in marital property as well as limited partnerships.

Valuation of marital property

Once you are sure that you have a thorough and complete list of marital property, the next step is to assign each item on the list a monetary value. In order to accomplish this, you should find an independent appraiser. You will also need a valuation date and this is often the date of your official separation filed with the court or it may be a date that the court chooses.

Once the valuation date is set, then the appraiser will determine how much each asset and property was worth on that date only. This means that you may lose money if the property increases in value after that date or you may have saved yourself a loss if the property value decreases.

When going through a divorce it is always a good idea to consult with an experienced attorney in your area who can provide legal advice to you.