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What Does It Mean to Be an Equitable Distribution State?

By David Hammond

Property distribution is a major issue that needs to be addressed during divorce proceedings. Should the divorcing spouses be unable to agree on how property will be divided, a court will do so for them. In order to do this, the court will adhere to the laws of the state. The State of New York used to be a “common law property” state. This meant that property was distributed based solely on which spouse’s name appeared on the title. Now, New York is an equitable distribution state.

Understanding an Equitable Distribution State

Equitable distribution means that, in a divorce, property will be equitably divided between the parties. Equitable does not mean equal, but sometimes property will be equally divided. Equitable distribution means that the court will aim to divide the property in a manner that is fair. In order to do this, the court will weigh a variety of factors, including:

  • The duration of the marriage
  • The income and property of each spouse when they married
  • The income and property of each spouse when they filed for divorce
  • The age and health of each spouse
  • The value of benefits such as health insurance or retirement accounts that either spouse will lose due to the divorce
  • Any alimony that will be awarded
  • The contributions of either spouse made in the form of labor, support, or money
  • The contribution either spouse made to supporting the increase of the other spouse’s earning potential
  • Whether the marital assets are liquid or non-liquid
  • Tax consequences of the distribution
  • Wastefulness of either spouse
  • Any other factor the court finds to be relevant in reaching a fair distribution of the property

Essentially, the court weighs each spouse’s contribution to the marriage and what each will need to move forward after the divorce.

Does Equitable Distribution Include Separate Property?

Only property that is deemed marital property will be subject to equitable distribution. Each spouse retains his or her right to separate property. Marital property generally refers to the property that was acquired during the course of the marriage. It does not matter who actually holds the title to the property. There are certain exceptions to property acquired during the marriage being considered marital property. Separate property not only includes property either spouse had prior to marriage, it also includes some kinds of property acquired during the marriage, including:

  • An inheritance or gift the spouse received individually that was not from the other spouse
  • A personal injury settlement
  • Property characterized as separate property in a prenuptial agreement or another contract
  • Property acquired with the proceeds or appreciation in the value of separate property (with some exceptions)

New York Divorce Attorneys

The way in which property is distributed in your divorce can have a huge impact on your financial future. At CDH Law, we protect your best interests throughout divorce proceedings. This includes seeing that your financial interests are protected during property distributions. This is a critical element to thriving in life after divorce. We are here for you. Contact us today.

About the Author
David is a former military prosecutor and defense lawyer with over a decade of experience fighting for service members and their families. He served nine years and two combat tours as an active duty US Army officer, then joined the Reserves and settled down in Syracuse to be near family. Now representing people across Central New York charged with serious felonies, misdemeanors, DWIs, and traffic offenses, he puts the same level of commitment into his civilian law practice. If you have any questions regarding this article, you can contact David here.