Economic Support and Equitable Distribution

I have previously written that New York’s equitable distribution law does not require equal distribution of marital assets.  This view has been confirmed by recent case, Glassberg v. Glassberg, Index No. 24307/05, __ Misc.3d __ (Sup. Ct. Suffolk Co. 2009).  A disbarred attorney who provided “limited, sporadic, unreliable and inconsistent” support to the “economic partnership” of a 17-year marriage should receive only 35 percent of the couple’s property.  The court found that during the marriage ” the Wife provided a substantial share of the financial and day-to-day support in maintaining the household … includ[ing] working full-time, being the primary caregiver for their son and … providing for the consistent and reliable income flow the family enjoyed.”

Marc Glassberg, an English teacher who went to law school at night, married Dorene Glassberg, a special education teacher, in 1988, a second marriage for both. The parties have one child, born in 1989. Ms. Glassberg filed for divorce in October 2005.  Mr. Glassberg, who was admitted into New York Bar in 1985, testified that he “never netted more than $30,000 annually in earnings as an attorney,” except in one instance.  He  testified that he ran his practice out of his basement and his car after being unable to afford a storefront office.  He resigned from the bar and was disbarred in 2000, as the result of disciplinary proceedings against him for failing to preserve client funds from the sale of a home. Since then, he has worked in a series of jobs, including stints at Godiva Chocolates and a card store.  In 1999, he took another job teaching English at a Bronx high school, commuting six hours a day but was fired in 2001 for misconduct. A teacher in Los Angeles since 2008, Mr. Glassberg reported an income of just over $64,000 in 2008.

Ms. Glassberg, on the other hand, earned more than $118,000, according to her 2007 tax return, as a long-term teacher.  Mr. Glassberg argued that he had been involved with his family and that despite his “hard luck, misfortune and indeed a ‘reversal of fortune,'” had striven to be a parent and provider. Ms. Glassberg countered that despite working full-time, she “engaged in virtually all of the household duties with no assistance” from Mr. Glassberg, including cooking, cleaning, yard work, laundry and “always” doing homework with their son. She conceded that Mr. Glassberg coached the son’s soccer team for two years and took out the garbage.

While Mr. Glassberg “surely exercised extremely poor judgment” in getting disbarred, he “nonetheless generally (although at times inconsistently) acted to earn income during the marriage”.  However, his role in running the day-to-day household and contributing to the economic partnership was “limited, sporadic, unreliable and inconsistent,” the judge concluded.  He awarded Ms. Glassberg 65 percent of the marital estate in equitable distribution.

The wife’s attorney argued that Mr. Glassberg’s conduct in losing his law license and getting fired from his New York teaching job should be considered wasteful dissipation of marital assets, reducing his share of the couple’s property. However, the court did not address these issues and instead held that Mr. Glassberg had not contributed equally to the economic partnership of the marriage.

This case demonstrates what I have previously written.  If one spouse’s economic contribution to the marriage was significantly less than that of the other spouse, the court has discretion to distribute marital property in accordance with each spouse’s economic contribution to the marriage.  An experienced divorce lawyer should be able to evaluate each situation and determine if such argument as advanced in Glassberg is warranted.

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