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Posted on September 29, 2023

Is New York a Community Property State for Divorce?

When couples decide to divorce, one of the most important considerations is the division of assets and debts. In some states, such as California, the law requires that marital property be divided equally between spouses. However, New York operates under a different set of laws when it comes to property division in a divorce.

In New York, marital property is divided based on the principle of equitable distribution. This means that property acquired during the marriage will be divided in a way that is fair and equitable, but not necessarily equal. The court will consider a variety of factors when making its decision, including the length of the marriage, the income and earning potential of each spouse, and the contributions made by each spouse to the marriage.

Navigating the complexities of property division in a divorce can be challenging. Ensure your rights are protected and you receive a fair distribution of assets with the help of an experienced New York divorce lawyer. At the Law Office of Richard Roman Shum, our team of skilled Manhattan divorce lawyers can guide you through the divorce process in New York and advocate for your best interests. Call us today at (646) 259-3416 to schedule a consultation.

Equitable Distribution States

Equitable distribution is a legal concept that outlines the procedure for dividing marital assets and debts when a couple undergoes divorce. Despite its name, equitable distribution does not necessarily require an equal split of all marital property. Instead, the court takes into account a range of factors pertaining to the marriage and the contributions of each spouse. The court possesses significant discretion in determining how assets are allocated, with the primary objective of allocating the assets fairly rather than uniformly.

Before the transition to equitable distribution in New York, the state operated under a common law property system. Under this system, the allocation of property in divorce cases was based solely on the name listed as the titleholder. If a property had one spouse’s name on the title, they were the sole rightful owner of that asset. However, New York now functions as an equitable distribution state, whereby the division of property in divorce proceedings is conducted with the aim of achieving fairness and justice for both parties involved.

In the United States, the majority of states follow the equitable distribution when it comes to property division in divorce cases, although exceptions exist in the form of community property states. The states that follow community property include Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin, along with Puerto Rico, which also follows community property principles. In Alaska, there is a unique provision where couples have the option to choose whether their property will be considered as community property. This means that couples in Alaska can decide whether to follow the community property system or opt for another arrangement when it comes to the division of their assets in the event of a divorce. 

Seeking a fair and equitable resolution in a divorce case can be complex, especially in equitable distribution states like New York. At the Law Office of Richard Roman Shum, our experienced New York divorce attorneys can help you navigate the process and ensure that your assets are distributed fairly. We have a deep understanding of New York’s equitable distribution laws and are committed to protecting your rights and achieving a favorable resolution. Contact us today to schedule a consultation and take the first step toward a brighter future.

Domestic Relations Law and Equitable Distribution

The New York Domestic Relations Law sets out the rules for the division of marital property in divorce cases. Section 236(B)(5)(d) of the Domestic Relations Law provides that marital property is to be divided based on the principle of equitable distribution. The law defines marital property as any property acquired by either spouse during the marriage, regardless of how the property is titled or held.

The Domestic Relations Law also allows for separate property to be protected from division in a divorce. Separate property is property that is acquired by one spouse before the marriage, or property that is acquired by gift, inheritance, or personal injury award during the marriage. However, if separate property is commingled with marital property, it may lose its status as separate property and become subject to division in a divorce.

The Domestic Relations Law sets forth the factors that courts consider when dividing marital property in a divorce. These factors include:

  • The income and property of each spouse at the time of marriage and at the time of the divorce
  • The length of the marriage and the age and health of the spouses
  • The need of the custodial parent to occupy or own the marital residence and to use or own its household effects
  • The loss of inheritance and pension rights upon dissolution of the marriage as of the date of dissolution
  • Any equitable claim to, interest in, or direct or indirect contribution made to the acquisition of such marital property by the party not having a 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.
Marital Property Property acquired during marriage by either spouse
Separate Property Property acquired before marriage or by gift, inheritance, or personal injury award
Commingling of Separate and Marital Property Separate property mixed with marital property may become subject to division
Factors Considered Income and property at the time of marriage and divorce, length of marriage, age and health, need of custodial parent for residence and household effects, loss of inheritance and pension rights, contributions to acquisition of marital property

Case Law and Equitable Distribution

The New York courts have issued numerous decisions that provide guidance on how to apply the principle of equitable distribution in divorce cases. In the case of Grunfeld v. Grunfeld, the court emphasized that equitable distribution does not mean equal distribution and that the goal is to arrive at a result that is fair and reasonable under the circumstances of the case. Grunfeld v Grunfeld, 255 AD2d 12, 21 [1st Dept 1999]

In another case, Majauskas v. Majauskas, the court established the principle that pension benefits earned during the marriage are marital property subject to division in a divorce. This decision has had significant implications for the division of retirement benefits in divorce cases. Majauskas v Majauskas, 61 NY2d 481, 486 [1984]

While New York is not a community property state, the division of marital property in divorce cases is still an important and complex issue. If you are facing a divorce and are concerned about the division of your assets, it is important to work with an experienced family law attorney who can help you understand your legal rights and options.

By understanding the principles of equitable distribution and the rules governing the division of marital property in New York, you can be better prepared to navigate the divorce process and protect your financial interests. At the Law Office of Richard Roman Shum, we offer experienced, quality legal assistance and services aimed at helping New Yorkers navigate the complexities of divorce and family law. Contact us today at (646) 259-3416 to schedule a consultation.

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