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Dividing Assets: The Economic Partnership

  • by Danielle Montalto-Bly

It’s commonly believed that you can protect your assets based on how you hold “title,” or ownership, However, in New York “title” is not controlling. This means that a person can have an ownership interest in property, even if his or her name is nowhere on the deed, title or account. This is true of family members, business parties and couples alike. However, it’s most particularly true when it comes to married couples. In New York, a marriage is considered an economic partnership, just like a corporation. Monies earned, saved and invested during the marriage are owned 50/50, no matter who does what for it. 

The court presumes that in a marriage, each party is making contributions toward the success of that family. This may mean that both parties work, earn and contribute financially. It may also mean that one party contributes financially, while the other contributes by caring for the children, the home, other family members, etc. These contributions are seen as just as valuable, because each party allows the other to focus on their respective role. That’s why, when assets are divided they are generally divided 50/50. However, where there is no economic partnership the court may decide to change those percentages after determining the value of each parties’ contribution. 

Let’s say the parties start their relationship with the wife as a teacher and the husband as a mechanic. Over time, the husband can’t hold a job and stops financially contributing. This is always a point of contention between the parties. They have children, but the wife is the primary caretaker. Despite the husband being home and available, he does not stay home to care for the children. He does not cook or clean. He does not make improvements or updates to the marital home. In fact, the wife has given ultimatums and this becomes the ultimate reason for the divorce. This is an example of a situation where you may be able to prove there is no economic partnership. 

But remember, if you allow your spouse to act in a certain way for an extended period of time, without taking action, the court takes the position that you “acquiesced” or accepted this behavior. Do not wait too long to assert a claim of non-economic partnership. Reach out to our attorneys to learn more on this topic.