By law, we are a so-called “equitable distribution” state. As a result, New York’s courts typically try to split a divorcing couple’s assets equitably, which does not mean equally. It means fairly, or in a just way. (Community property states, such as Texas and California, aim for a more equal 50/50 split.)
However, people and even courts differ about what they see as fair. Equity is a cultural judgment call, but there are ways you and your attorney can seek to swing judgments further in your direction.
Culture affects views of the value of full-time parenting
In an article for Forbes, Naomi Cahn highlights that what counts as fair or just (equitable) different from person to person and from one era of history to another.
A law professor at George Washington University, she points to a study that measured what a large study group thought of splitting assets between a stay at home mother who paused her career and the husband who kept working.
Most people said they valued the mother’s contribution to the marriage and its finances (given that they needed to buy little-to-no childcare) as well as the father’s.
Still, the study dramatizes that stay-at-home moms who give up their careers do not usually get half of the marital assets. The breadwinner wins most of the bread, in most cases. Similar studies show that these moms also do not often get alimony for extended periods of time.
Getting prepared to argue for a fair deal
Depending on the couple, a post-nuptial agreement negotiated early in the separation process is often an excellent way of protecting the wife’s legitimate stake in the marriage’s assets. It can allow for a clear-headed negotiation to forge an agreement that may be more equitable than it might be if the battle heats up.
Another strategic move that often makes for better outcomes is to start looking for work, sending out resumes, applying for jobs and networking as soon as possible. Many courts see these as a sign of a reasonable spirit of equity, self-sufficiency and of seriousness in trying to financially participate.
Finally, a qualified and assertive attorney can prove invaluable, especially when armed with a trove of information. Financial information like tax returns, pay stubs, bank statements, and investment accounts can give an attorney a clear view of the “big picture.” Knowing your credit score, the value of the house and other large assets and a realistic post-marriage budget are often indispensable.