Equitable Distribution Isn’t Necessarily Equitable Distribution

Many people believe that when you get divorced, especially after a long term marriage, your assets are split equally.  This is not true.  New York is an equitable distribution state, meaning that equity, or fairness, will decide how assets are to be split.  Who determines what’s fair or equitable? Well if the parties cannot amicably settle their dispute and come up with an accommodation between them, the Court will make that determination.   If you leave it to the Court, you may or may not get what you deem is appropriate at the parties in Cornish v. Cornish recently discovered.

The parties in the Cornish matter were married in 1991 with three children.  The wife was the monied spouse in this case and the husband was awarded, amongst other things, 30% of his wife’s pension, vice 50%.  He was also awarded 50% of the parties credit card debt.   The husband appeals seeking to modify the trial Court’s ruling increasing his share of the wife’s pension to 50%.  The first thing the husband needed to realize is that the Courts are accorded substantial deference in determining what distribution of the marital property is equitable.  Note the equitable standard which is based upon considerations of fairness and the respective situations of the parties.

The trial Court looked at the marriage.  Here, the husband was a stay at home father.  However, as the wife testified, the once the children reached school age, the wife implored the husband to find employment, which he declined despite the financial difficulties the family faced.  In addition to his refusal to earn a living and contribute financially to the family, it was ascertained that husband was an alcoholic and his alcoholism was contributing to his ability to find employment.  Additionally, the husband had inherited money.  Instead of using this money to assist the family, the Court found that he wasted his inheritance and in a few short months, it was gone.  Finally, the Court did not find the husband’s testimony regarding his job search credible.  Thus the Court, taking all of this into consideration, believed it was only fair that 30% of the pension go to the husband vice 50%.

In the same vein, the Court determined that the family’s finances were compromised by their use of credit cards to pay for family expenses.  However, the Court also found that the credit card was not only used for daily expenses, but that the husband used the cards for unnecessary expenses unduly burdening the already precarious family financial picture.  As a result, the Court awarded half of the debt to the husband.

Your behavior during the marriage is important when it comes to equitable distribution.  Keep in mind that marital property is divided between the parties and that not only will the Court divide property/assets, it will also divide liabilities. If you have a spouse, like in this case, who is wasting marital assets coupled with refusing to contribute to the marriage, the Court will take that into consideration when determining how to fashion an equitable distribution award.

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