Equitable Distribution in Childless Marriages
In New York State the equitable distribution of marital property frequently is somewhere in the fifty-fifty range. Courts may vary by a few percentage points, but reviewing the voluminous case law of equitable distribution shows a strong predisposition for roughly equal distribution. This is with a very notable exception of childless marriages. In childless marriages the equitable distribution of marital property is anything but fifty-fifty.
The key here is that a childless marriage is an economic partnership only. When kids enter the picture, you now have a parenting partnership, which is a wholly different animal. Anyone who has been married for a while and then had kids should know exactly what we are talking about.
With respect to that solely economic partnership of a childless marriage, courts have held that equitable distribution should be in the ratio of the parties’ respective earnings during the marriage and/or based upon the parties’ relative economic contributions to marriage.
Courts will look at the extent of the parties’ financial partnership such as the existence of joint accounts, the parties’ respective work histories and how the parties managed their money. Where the parties each managed their own accounts and had no joint accounts, this says a lot about the fact that their marriage was one of “yours” and “mine” and not “ours”. Hence, equitable distribution will follow the proportions that the parties contributed to the marital estate.
With respect to those marriages where one party works outside the home and the other party does not otherwise contribute to the operation of the household, a court should weigh equitable distribution accordingly.
The duration childless marriages apparently do not matter much in equitable distribution. Cases have cited the fact that a marriage was short term as well as long term in explaining why equitable distribution need not be equal distribution in a childless marriage.