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NY Adds a New Factor to Consider for Equitable Distribution: Domestic Violence

On April 3, 2020, tucked away in a bill largely addressing the New York State budget for the 2020-2021 fiscal year, the Legislature amended Domestic Relations Law (DRL) §236B(5)(d) by adding a new factor a court must consider in distributing property between divorcing spouses. 2020 NY Senate-Assembly Bill S-7505-B, A-9505-B. The law adds domestic violence as a factor and mandates that the court consider “whether either party has committed an act or acts of domestic violence, as described in [Social Services Law §459-a] against the other party and the nature, extent, duration and impact of such act or acts.” DRL §236B(5)(d)(14).

As admirably well-intentioned as this amendment is, it represents a significant departure from current law, which, absent “egregious” misconduct, has principally been fault-neutral since the advent of equitable distribution 40 years ago. It will have repercussions for the courts, practitioners, and litigants.