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Fairchild v Fairchild


2017 NY Slip Op 02776


The defendant appeals portions of a divorce judgment that was decided in the Suffolk County Supreme Court. After a nonjury trial, the court said that 100% of Highland Terrace land be distributed to the plaintiff. The defendant should receive $250,000 for his interest in the residence. The plaintiff is to have sole ownership, title and possession of both land and residence. Both the plaintiff and the defendant should receive credit for 50% of the marital jewelry. Lastly, the plaintiff should receive a credit of $87,500 for her portion of a 1955 Jaguar that was sold.

Ordered judgment is affirmed.

The plaintiff and defendant were married in 1994, and have two children between them. In 2000, the plaintiff acquired the residential property from her father. At roughly the same time, the defendant entered into an agreement with the plaintiff’s father. In that agreement, the defendant stated that if the parties ever divorced, he would waive his right to the Highland Terrace property. The plaintiff deeded the property to herself and they built a house on it. The plaintiff filed for a divorce in 2011. The defendant appeals regarding the equitable distribution.

Domestic Relations Law 236 states that an equitable distribution must be based on the circumstances of the case (Fields v Fields 15 NY3d 158, 170, Domestic Relations Law 236 [B][5][c][d]). The court said that pursuant to this law, the court has broad discretion in determining what is equitable (Mahoney-Buntzman v Buntzman 12 NY3d 415). The court will consider any factors that the court finds just and proper (Domestic Relations Law 236 [B][5][d][14]. The court has substantial equity in determining what is fair (Mahoney-Buntzman v Buntzman 12 NY3d 420). Equitable distribution doesn’t necessarily mean equitable distribution (Ackley v Ackley 100 AD2d 153, Faello v Faello 43 AD 1102).

In this case, the court properly exercised its discretion in its award to the plaintiff of 100% of the land when considering Domestic Relations Law 236 [b][5][d] and the defendant making an agreement with the father waving their interest in the property (Ackley v Ackley 100 AD 153).

It is within the sound discretion of the court to evaluate the credibility of a witness (Varga v Varga 288 AD2d 210, Peritore v Peritore 66 AD3d 750, Masserman v Masserman 78 AD3d 1021). The court wasn’t required to credit the testimony of the defendant regarding selling the jaguar for $105,000. In the absence of proof, taking into account the value of the car was $175,000, the court correctly awarded $87,500 to the plaintiff.

Because there was no proof as to the value of the jewelry, crediting each party 50% of the undistributed jewelry was fair, rather than set a specific value (Sawin v Sawin 128 Ad3d 663, Milnarik v Milarik 23 AD3d 960, Nichols v Nichols 19 AD3d 775).

In New York, equitable distribution is a way of dividing marital property upon divorce. This may or may not result in an equitable division. The court will look to what is inherently fair, taking into account what each spouse has put into the marriage and what they will need to move forward.

Prior to NY adopting this rule, New York was a common-law property state. In that scenario, the property owned by each spouse was distributed according to the manner in which it was held.

Under the new rule, it may or may not look like an “equal” split of property. The court will look at things like the length of the marriage, their income, their health, pension, inheritance and many other factors.

This rule only applies to marital property and doesn’t apply to separate property that was brought into the marriage.

If you are involved in a divorce, it is important to ensure that your interests are protected at every stage of the process. The sooner you contact Stephen Bilkis and Associates, the sooner our legal team can set to work gathering evidence and create a legal strategy that best serves you.

We have offices throughout the New York area, including locations in Manhattan, the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, Nassau County, Suffolk County and Westchester County. Call today to schedule your free consultation at 1-800-NYNYLAW.

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