Egregious conduct affecting equitable distribution in divorce
As a matrimonial and family law attorney, my clients regularly ask me various questions about the factors that may have an impact on their divorce, or the determination of equitable distribution. Some partners believe that they should be entitled to an unequal distribution of assets during circumstances where one party within the relationship was involved in an affair, committed acts of abuse in an emotional or physical sense, or engaged in examples of domestic violence. Unfortunately, the response I often give to by clients is that in most cases – issues of “marital fault” are rarely considered to be a relevant factor in deciding equitable distribution.
The law of Domestic Relations in New York provides guidance for the factors a court should consider when making decisions regarding equitable distribution. Although that statute doesn’t actually offer a distinct provision for consideration of fault, it does allow for some flexibility in the form of a catchall provision permitting the court to analyze “any other factor” that can be determined as both proper and just in considering equitable distribution, maintenance (aka alimony) or child support. Unfortunately, most courts reject the idea that marital fault can be considered as a proper and just factor for consideration, except for in very specific or “egregious cases” which have a direct impact on the court conscience. The fundamental aspects of this rule center on the idea that marriage – in all of its many forms – is a type of economic partnership, meaning that martial estates should always be divided in an accordingly “fair” (equitable) manner. It’s also worth noting that many courts suggest that assigning fault in any particular circumstance can be incredibly difficult, and introducing such an issue into court procedure could make cases far more time consuming than they currently are. After all, New York now has No-Fault divorce, in addition to the fault based factors which still exist as grounds. Continue reading →