We hold that under the Equitable Distribution Law an increase in the value of separate property of one spouse, occurring during the marriage and prior to the commencement of matrimonial proceedings, which is due in part to the indirect contributions or efforts of the other spouse as homemaker and parent, should be considered marital property (Domestic Relations Law § 236 [B]  [d] ). Under the statute there are two categories of property: marital property which is subject to equitable distribution and separate property which is not (Domestic Relations Law § 236 [B]  [c], [d]). Marital property is broadly defined as "all property acquired by either or both spouses during the marriage" (Domestic Relations Law § 236 [B]  [c]). Separate property, which is specifically described as an exception to marital property, includes property "acquired before marriage or property acquired by bequest, devise, or descent, or gift from a party other than the spouse" (Domestic Relations Law § 236 [B]  [d] ). Separate property also includes "property acquired in exchange for or the increase in value of separate property, except to the extent that such appreciation is due in part to the contributions or efforts of the other spouse" (Domestic Relations Law § 236 [B]  [d] ; emphasis supplied).
The narrow question of statutory construction before us is whether the terms "contributions or efforts", contained in the italicized phrase quoted above, are intended to incorporate contributions or efforts of the other spouse as homemaker and parent. Because we hold that increases in value due in part to such efforts or contributions are to be considered under section 236 (B) (1) (d) (3), such increases are excepted from separate property and treated as marital property available
The instant action, commenced in 1981, culminated in a judgment of divorce in April 1984. At issue is the treatment to be given under section 236 (B) (1) (d) (3) to defendant's ownership interest in the Unity Stove Company (Unity), a family business engaged in the wholesale supply of kitchen parts and appliances. Defendant commenced his association with Unity several years before the parties were married in 1969. He acquired 25% of the outstanding stock of Unity by gift from his father in 1957 and another 25% by gift in 1972. After commencement of the divorce action but prior to the divorce judgment, defendant became sole owner of Unity when the outstanding shares of the corporation were redeemed. He also became the owner of a corporation which holds title to the real estate holdings of Unity.
Before the marriage plaintiff was employed as a registered nurse at Mount Sinai Hospital. After the marriage, for a period of six months, she worked full time at Unity and, for the next six months, part time as a private duty nurse. When the first of the parties' two children was born in 1972, plaintiff gave up her outside employment in order to devote her efforts to being a homemaker and parent. There is evidence that during the marriage she attended conventions with her husband and assisted him as hostess at various business-related social events.
Following trial of the divorce action, Supreme Court found that defendant's interests in Unity and the related company constituted "separate property" since plaintiff had acquired these stock interests as gifts (see, Domestic Relations Law § 236 [B]  [d]). The court rejected plaintiff's contention that the appreciation in value of defendant's separate property should be treated as marital property to the extent that any such increase was due, in part, to her contributions and efforts (Domestic Relations Law § 236 [B]  [d] ). It found that whatever direct contributions she may have made to Unity were "minimal and inconsequential" and that her indirect contributions were "likewise insignificant".
In a comprehensive opinion, the Appellate Division unanimously modified on the law and the facts (113 A.D.2d 299), concluding that plaintiff's indirect contributions as a homemaker
Following its determination, the Appellate Division denied the parties' reciprocal motions for reargument and granted defendant's motion for leave to appeal to this court pursuant to CPLR 5602 (b). It has certified the following question to us: "Whether a nontitled spouse's `contributions or efforts' (Domestic Relations Law § 236 [B]  [d] ) as homemaker and parent are entitled to recognition by the court in awarding said spouse a share of the appreciated value of the titled spouses separate property which occurred during the parties' marriage".
For reasons which will appear, the question should be answered in the affirmative and the order of the Appellate Division affirmed.
In construing Domestic Relations Law § 236 (B) (1) (d) (3) and determining whether the Legislature intended that efforts of the nontitled spouse as homemaker and parent should be included, we must, of course, look to the particular words for their meaning, both as they are used in the section and in their context as part of the entire statute. But we must also look beyond the statutory language and consider the history leading to the adoption of the Equitable Distribution Law and the legislative purpose and policy considerations underlying this radical change in the Domestic Relations Law (L 1980, ch 281, § 9) (see, Ferres v City of New Rochelle, 68 N.Y.2d 446, 451;
As background for an analysis of the statute, it is helpful to review the policy considerations leading to the enactment of the Equitable Distribution Law and to restate the main purpose of the legislation. The major reform accomplished by the law was a radical alteration of the traditional method of distributing property on dissolution of marriage. As we explained in O'Brien v O'Brien (66 N.Y.2d 576, 585), the Legislature replaced the existing system of distribution, which depended on the common-law rules of property and had led to unfair results, "with equitable distribution of marital property, an entirely new theory which considered all the circumstances of the case and of the respective parties to the marriage (Assembly Memorandum, 1980 NY Legis Ann, at 129-130). Equitable distribution was based on the premise that a marriage is, among other things, an economic partnership to which both parties contribute as spouse, parent, wage earner or homemaker" (id., at p 585 [emphasis added]; see, Governor's Memorandum of Approval, 1980 McKinney's Session Laws of NY, at 1863; Assembly Memorandum, 1980 NY Legis Ann, at 129-130). The Equitable Distribution Law reflects an awareness that the economic success of the partnership depends "not only upon the respective financial contributions of the partners, but also on a wide range of nonremunerated services to the joint enterprise, such as homemaking, raising children and providing the emotional and moral support necessary to sustain the other spouse in coping with the vicissitudes of life outside the home (see, Governor's Memorandum, McKinney's Session Laws of NY, 1980, p 1863; see, also, Litman v Litman, 93 A.D.2d 695, 696, app dsmd 60 N.Y.2d 586; Forcucci v Forcucci, 83 A.D.2d 169, 171; Wood v Wood, 119 Misc.2d 1076, 1079)" (Brennan v Brennan, 103 A.D.2d 48, 52; see, Capasso v Capasso, 119 A.D.2d 268; Wegman v Wegman, 123 A.D.2d 220). This "economic partnership" concept of marriage and the recognition of the value of "non-remunerated services" such as homemaking are exhibited in two important provisions in the statute: (1) that in making an equitable distribution the court shall
For any court making an equitable distribution under the statute, the necessary starting point is the critical determination of what constitutes "marital property" — the designation of the particular assets which the court is to distribute equitably pursuant to section 236 (B) (5). The Legislature, in defining this basic term "marital property", we have held, intended that the term should be construed broadly in order to give effect to the "economic partnership" concept of the marriage relationship recognized in the statute (see, Majauskas v Majauskas, 61 N.Y.2d 481, 489, 490). The term "separate property", on the other hand, which is described in the statute as an exception to marital property, we have stated, should be construed narrowly (Majauskas v Majauskas, supra, at p 489). These observations are of particular relevance here because the question of whether Domestic Relations Law § 236 (B) (1) (d) (3) includes increases in value due to contributions or efforts of a spouse as parent and homemaker involves a determination of what should be excluded from separate property and, thereby, included in marital property. Thus, to effect the broad construction of the term "marital property" mandated by our holding in Majauskas v Majauskas (supra), it follows that the exclusion from separate property for increases in value due, in part, to contributions or efforts of the nontitled spouse (§ 236 [B]  [d] ) should be broadly construed. (See, Scheinkman, 1981 Practice Commentary, McKinney's Cons Laws of NY, Book 14, Domestic Relations Law C236B:4, 1986 Supp Pamphlet, p 205.)
With this background we turn to an analysis of the words of the statute, being guided by the accepted rules of construction that: (1) statutory language is generally given its natural and most obvious meaning (McKinney's Cons Laws of NY, Book 1, Statutes § 94; see, Association of Contr. Plumbers v Contracting Plumbers Assn., 302 N.Y. 495, 500); and (2) if there is nothing to indicate a contrary intent, terms of general import will ordinarily be given their full significance without limitation (McKinney's Cons Laws of NY, Book 1, Statutes § 114; Matter of Board of St. Opening, 133 N.Y. 329, 333-334). Here, the words "contributions or efforts" are used in the inclusive,
Giving the words "contributions or efforts" their natural and obvious meaning as general and comprehensive terms is consistent with a third established rule of construction: that a particular construction of a statute should be preferred which furthers the statute's object, spirit and purpose (see, Matter of Petterson v Daystrom Corp., 17 N.Y.2d 32, 38, 39, supra; Matter of New York Post Corp. v Leibowitz, 2 N.Y.2d 677, 685, 686; McKinney's Cons Laws of NY, Book 1, Statutes § 96). Here, a broad construction of the terms "contributions or efforts" in section 236 (B) (1) (d) (3), as we have noted, results in enlarging the sum of marital property available for distribution and, thus, promotes the basic "economic partnership" concept of the statute.
Defendant argues, however, that two other provisions in section 236 (B) support a limited interpretation of the terms "contributions or efforts" in section 236 (B) (1) (d) (3). He contends that because the Legislature has specified that a court should consider contributions and services as a spouse, parent and homemaker in making an equitable distribution of marital property (§ 236 [B]  [d] ) and in fixing the amount and duration of maintenance (§ 236 [B]  [a] ), it follows that the Legislature did not intend that a court should consider such contributions in determining whether an appreciation in separate property should be treated as marital property (§ 236 [B]  [d] )
We hold, therefore, that where separate property of one spouse has appreciated during the marriage and before execution of a separation agreement or commencement of a matrimonial proceeding and where such appreciation was "due in part" to the contributions or efforts of the nontitled spouse as parent and homemaker, the amount of that appreciation should be added to the sum of marital property for equitable distribution (§ 236 [B] ). Whether assistance of a nontitled
The question under section 236 (B) (1) (d) (3) as to indirect contributions of the nontitled spouse as parent and homemaker is whether there was an appreciation of separate property due to the efforts of the titled spouse during the period when it is shown that those efforts were being aided or facilitated in some way by these indirect contributions. If so, the amount of appreciation during that period is considered a
The certified question should be answered in the affirmative and the order of the Appellate Division should be affirmed, with costs.
Order affirmed, etc.