4 reasons “equitable” doesn’t always mean “equal” in a divorce

On Behalf of | Dec 27, 2023 | Divorce

When you’re going through a divorce, one of the most important issues most couples have to address is the division of the marital estate.

In contrast to community property states like California, New York is an equitable distribution state. Once each spouse’s separate property (anything that is deemed to solely be their own, either due to ownership before marriage, inheritance, marital agreement or some other reason) is removed from the equation, whatever remains must be divided “equitably” or fairly – and that may or may not be equal.

Here are some examples of why equal and equitable aren’t necessarily the same thing:

1. One spouse gave up a career for the other

It’s not unusual for the spouse of someone with a complicated career to give up their own aspirations to be a support person for their spouse. Years later, if they end up divorced, their capacity to renew their career may be non-existent. In those situations, a 50/50 split of the marital assets may not be fair because it can leave the dependent spouse at a substantial and “unfair” disadvantage and unfairly reduce their standard of living.

2. One spouse had a secret pile of debts

The marital estate doesn’t just include the assets; the marital debts also have to be divided. If one spouse had a secret pile of credit cards and ran up the debts without the knowledge of the other, the court may take that into consideration when it makes its ruling. (On the other hand, debts in one spouse’s name may not be found to solely belong to that spouse if the expenditures were either done openly or they benefit the household.)

3. There’s been financial misconduct

Everyone knows (or should know) that they aren’t supposed to destroy assets, sell them at a loss or hide them just to try to keep their spouse from getting a fair split in a divorce – but that doesn’t stop a few from trying. If your spouse tries to hide money, runs up the bills to “punish” you for leaving or blows your savings at a poker table, the court may award you a disproportionate share of the remaining assets (and leave them with a bigger share of the debts).

As a practical matter, the courts usually start with the idea that a roughly equal split of the marital estate is probably fair, but you can argue for a different result. A successful outcome is much easier when you have experienced legal guidance by your side.

At The Law Firm of Poppe & Associates, PLLC, our focus is relentless advocacy for our clients. If you or someone you know is considering divorce, reach out to schedule a consultation at 646-665-3903 or by contacting us online.

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Mia Poppe, Esq.

Mia Poppe, Esq.
Managing Partner