How is property divided during Massachusetts divorces?

When it comes to dividing shared assets during Massachusetts divorces, couples’ property may be split equitably and fairly by the court.

The Centers for Disease Control Prevention reports that, as of 2011, the divorce rate in Massachusetts was 3.6 for every 1,000 residents. In addition to concerns relating to the custody and care of their children, one of the most contested aspects of the process for many divorcing couples is the division of their marital estate. Each spouse may feel he or she is entitled to a certain amount based on their contributions to the marriage, but it is common for couples not to see eye to eye on how to split up their shared assets. To help ensure they are prepared, it behooves those who are splitting from their spouses to understand how the property division process works in the state.

Marital versus separate property

During a Massachusetts divorce, only the couple's shared assets are included in the property division. Any assets that each spouse owned prior to entering the marriage, such as a vehicle, real estate holdings or financial accounts with substantial balances, may be considered separate property. For the purposes of the divorce settlement process, gifts and inheritances received by one spouse or the other over the course of the marriage may also constitute separate property.

While they are married, it is common for couples to earn livings and acquire properties and other possessions. This may include any residences or other real estate purchased through shared funds, vehicles, certain collections and contributions to retirement plans. When it comes to a divorce, such assets may be considered part of the marital estate, and therefore, are subject to property division.

An equitable, but not necessarily equal division

Provided couples are not able to reach an amenable agreement on their own, the decision of how to divide the marital estate falls to the court. In making this determination, the court employs the equitable division standard. This principle does not mandate that couples' shared assets should be divided equally. Rather, it dictates that any marital property is to be divided fairly and equitably.

When deciding what is fair and equitable, the court considers numerous factors. These include the length of the marriage, as well as each spouse's age and health, current job or future employment opportunities, income sources, and needs and obligations. Often, values are assigned to the couples' assets and then they are divvied between them in a way that makes the most financial sense for each spouse.

Working with a legal representative

The longer the property division process is drawn out for divorcing couples in Massachusetts, families are kept from completely moving forward. Therefore, those who are considering splitting from their spouses may benefit from obtaining legal counsel. An attorney may guide them through the legal process, as well as look out for their interests and negotiate on their behalf.