The process of divorce divides all marital property between the two spouses. Massachusetts is an equitable division state, meaning all property is divided fairly between the couple. While one may assume that an “equitable distribution” means an “equal distribution,” that is not the law in Massachusetts. A judge may distribute a greater share of marital assets to one of the spouses if the facts of a case warrant an unequal distribution.
Can my personal property be considered marital property?
While all property that a couple acquires during marriage is considered marital property subject to division, even property owned prior to marriage and brought in and commingled into the marital estate can be considered marital assets subject to division. The exception is if the parties have a prenuptial agreement that effectively identifies and segregates assets from the divorce. However, this is a separate analysis and is not discussed in this section. Massachusetts allows a judge to divide all of a couple’s property, regardless of when it was acquired or which spouse actually holds title. Thus, the judge can divide both jointly held and individually held property, as long as it is “equitably” divided.
Can we decide how to split our property without an analysis of a judge?
Spouses may decide independently how to divide their property and circumvent the analysis of a judge, who may decide differently. If the spouses cannot agree on how to divide property, the judge will then decide and apply the law of equitable property division.
How does a judge divide property?
First, the judge classifies assets and liabilities, property and debt, as marital or separate. Then, based on the financial statements and any other evidence provided by the parties, the court assigns a monetary value to the marital property and debt. Finally, the judge will distribute the marital assets between the two parties in an equitable distribution.
Factors a judge will consider include the length of the marriage; the present and future needs of any dependent children of the marriage; and any spousal misconduct that caused the breakdown of the marriage; especially if there was financial misconduct. Other factors a judge will consider in fashioning the division include:
Age and health of each spouse
Station in life during the marriage
Occupation, vocational skills, and employ ability of each party
Each individual’s contribution to the acquisition, preservation, and appreciation of the
value of their estates, as well as the contribution to the home and marriage.
Amount and sources of income
Liabilities and needs
Opportunity for future acquisition of capital assets and income, and estate