Economic Contribution of Parties to Marriage and Equitable Distribution

Most of the time, when the courts engage in equitable distribution, the marital property is likely to be distributed equally. However, that is not the only option available to the court. Since New York is not a community property state and equitably does not mean equal, the court may distribute the marital property on the basis of their economic contribution to the marriage.

In a recent case, Booth v. Booth, 24 A.D.3d 1238 (4th Dept. 2005), the Appellate Division, Fourth Department, held that the lower court did not abuse its discretion in awarding the defendant 70% and the plaintiff 30% of marital assets where defendant contributed most of the family’s support and was the children’s primary caretaker. In this case, the parties’ history of earnings demonstrates that the plaintiff was the primary wage earner and contributor to the parties’ finances during the marriage.

In Niland v. Niland, 291 A.D.2d 876 (4th Dept. 2002), the Appellate Division, Fourth Department, considered the issues of equitable distribution in the context of dissimilar earnings of the parties. The Appellate Division upheld the lower court’s findings that the plaintiff-wife was entitled to 60% of the marital assets, where, based on its determination of credibility, the lower court found that plaintiff made “significantly greater financial contributions” to the marriage as well as “significant contributions to the development of [defendant’s] business.”

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