In a divorce, New York divides assets “equitably.” This is different from dividing something “equally.” Equality means everyone gets the same portion or opportunity. A staircase is equal, everyone has the chance to use it. Equity means making decisions based on fairness. Not everyone can use a staircase, so we build ramps and escalators to accommodate them.
When dividing property equitably, the court is focused on who deserves the property more. This deservedness, ultimately, becomes a matter of opinion. Both you and your spouse may believe you are entitled to something. Therefore, you must make a strong argument in court as to why you deserve to keep something after your divorce.
Equity Is Not Concerned with Money
Technically, anything either spouse purchased during the marriage is considered “marital property.” It belongs to both parties. The law assumes that, as family members, spouses spend their money toward the benefit of that family. Even something you bought strictly for yourself is up for debate, and you can lose it in a divorce.
Therefore, the law is not concerned with who paid for something or whose name is on the lease. It’s only concerned with who used the item or who contributed to it.
What Makes Property “Yours”?
Demonstrating that you are the property’s primary user is a strong argument for keeping it. We’ve already mentioned buying something strictly for yourself. Let’s use a new, expensive gaming system as a direct example. You are an avid, lifelong gamer, and your spouse has little to no interest in the hobby. If you bought the console with your money, and you were its primary user, you have a strong argument that it belongs to you alone, and it should stay in your possession when the divorce finalizes.
Primary use also works when you didn’t pay for the item. Imagine you needed a new car for work, and your spouse bought it for you. They made all the payments, and the car may even be in their name. Beyond that, however, they never use the vehicle. You drive it; you fill it with gas; you keep the oil changed; etc. There is a strong argument to be made that this car is “yours,” and you should keep it after the divorce.
Sometimes, there is a surprise shift in the primary user. Take, for instance, the family dog. Most pet owners know that even when an animal belongs to everyone, there is usually one person in the home that the animal bonds to the most. It even becomes an inside joke: “Oh, that’s their dog.”
Perhaps your spouse bought a puppy just for themselves, knowing you had little interest in dogs. To everyone’s surprise, however, you end up developing a strong relationship with the animal. It follows you everywhere; you take it out on your errands; you feed it, bathe it, and keep a close eye on its health. It’s unquestionable “your” dog, and you should be allowed to keep it. Despite the original intent of the property, if someone else becomes its primary user, that person can argue for ownership in a divorce.
For sure, there is property you can easily claim as your own. Sometimes, however, single ownership becomes more nebulous. This is often the case with the family home. Clearly, the home belongs to everyone in the family. Everyone lives in it, sleeps in it, uses it to meet their basic needs, and so on. Who, then, is able to claim sole entitlement in a divorce?
For shared property, you want to prove your contribution to that property. One of the clearest examples of this, regarding the home, is the stay-at-home parent. Traditionally, this person manages both the house and the kids. They keep the home clean; they decorate; they recognize repair needs first and oversee those projects; etc. The working parent clearly uses the home as well, but maybe they don’t contribute as much. Perhaps they primarily use the house to unwind at the end of their workday, only to get up early and start the cycle all over. In this scenario, the stay-at-home parent has a case for entitlement.
Getting Help from an Attorney
Being “right” doesn’t always help in divorce court. Sometimes, you need clever arguments to help prove that you are right, arguments that can persuade a courtroom in one direction or another. For this reason and many more, you need help from an attorney. They can help you make the best arguments for your property, arguments that are both true and clever. They are not there to be deceitful in any way, but they can help mold and craft an argument to your favor, being both effective and honest.
If you are concerned about losing your property in a New York divorce, reach out to our firm for help. We can listen to your needs and help create a convincing case for entitlement to your property. You can call us at (347) 378-1170 for a free consultation, or you can contact us online.