How Can I Keep My Property in a Divorce?

Divorce causes worries on many levels. Uncertainty can be chief among them. There are so many concerns about what will happen next, especially with property. We’ve all heard horror stories of people who “lost everything” in their divorce, and we certainly don’t want that happening to us.

To combat this, people attempt to create a plan for keeping their property. They want a surefire method that will give them a “win.” Unfortunately, this can be a fool’s errand. There are no proven, flawless methods for keeping your property after a divorce. However, you can arm yourself with information. By understanding how property is divided, you may be able to protect your assets.

Arguing in Court

In a divorce, New York courts use an “equitable division” model. Ultimately, they are not concerned with whose name is on a bank account or lease. They divide property by what they deem fair, meaning the assets go to the most deserving spouse. You must prove that the property rightfully belongs to you. Knowing this, you can work with your lawyer to prepare your arguments. Here are some ways you can demonstrate that you are entitled to property.

You Were the Primary User of the Property

In the eyes of the law, anything that was purchased during the marriage belongs to both spouses, regardless of who paid for it. Essentially, there is no sense of “this thing is mine, and that thing is theirs.” Often, however, both spouses know who the real “owner” is.

To illustrate, let’s consider the family dog. Technically, all pets are property. Bill buys Jane a puppy for her birthday. As time passes, Bill builds a strong bond with the animal. It follows him everywhere and must always be near him on the couch. This affection is returned. Bill takes the dog everywhere he goes. He keeps it fed and bathed and constantly spoils it with toys and playtime. Jane loves the dog, too, but there’s no denying it has become “Bill’s” dog. If Jane wants the dog in a divorce, Bill has a strong argument that the dog truly belongs to him.

You Contributed to the Asset

Sometimes it’s not enough to show that you were the primary user. In fact, your use of the item may be irrelevant. You may be able to convince the court that your contribution kept the asset intact. Also, you can demonstrate how your support led to the acquisition of the asset.

Imagine the family minivan. Both you and your spouse use it equally, and you will both find it helpful after the divorce. Regardless of who has primary custody of the kids, having that van will make your life easier. In this situation, it may be best to show the court that you were responsible for its upkeep. Although your spouse used it just as much as you did, you kept it running. You kept the oil changed and took it in for repairs. When the baby seats broke, you replaced them. At least once a month, you cleaned it inside and out, keeping it livable until the next cleaning. When that’s the case, you can argue that you were the main contributor to that property, and you should keep it after the divorce.

Imagine, however, that there is something you don’t use at all. During the marriage, your spouse quit their job, went back to school, and started a successful business. Now they make twice as much as you, and they live extravagantly. They wear expensive jewels and drive a fancy sports car. These are items you never interact with. However, your contribution made this lifestyle possible. Through your years of support, they are now able to afford this lavish lifestyle. You have a genuine argument to make that you are entitled to some of those jewels, a good portion of the savings, and maybe even that fancy car.

Dividing Assets on Your Own

Fortunately, having a tense courtroom battle is not your only option. You can make agreements on your own and submit them to the court. When doing so, it is advisable to seek legal help. Even when both parties are genuinely working toward the best outcome, it’s easy to overlook crucial decisions without professional assistance. Here are some ways you can divide property on your own while receiving help from a professional.


Through mediation, you can sit with a neutral third party who guides negotiations. With special training, this mediator can help you communicate. If things get heated, they can keep everyone cool and listening. In the best scenarios, they can even help you see things from each other’s perspectives, allowing minds to change and defenses to drop.

Collaborative Divorce

New York offers another option, collaborative divorce. It functions much like mediation, but there are more moving parts. First of all, each spouse can secure their own representation. This is not for the purposes of conflict. Rather, it ensures that all legal needs are covered, and nothing is ignored. Other experts can be included, such as financial and mental health professionals. This can be especially beneficial when making child custody decisions.

In a collaborative divorce, you meet with your team and tell them your needs. Your spouse does the same. Then, everyone meets together to work out the details.

Remember, the keyword is “collaborative.” Everyone in the room is on the same side. Lawyers can even recommend one another to help. They also have special psychological training which helps keep talks productive. No one in this process is at war, and no one is trying to “win.” Everyone is on the same team, working toward the best solution for all stakeholders.

Working together, you can each walk away with a sense of agency. Neither of you “lost” or “won” anything, and you both agreed to all decisions. You won’t feel forced to give something away because everything is done with your consent.

If you are concerned about your assets in a divorce, reach out to us for a free consultation. We can help whether you need to go to court or want to work with your spouse. Call us today at (347) 378-1170, or contact us online.