When you end a marriage, you will face a lot of tough decisions. Whether you were married for 1 year or 20, you lived together and most likely combined your property, assets, and even accounts. You may have had children. You or your spouse may have stopped working to support the other. Perhaps you supported your spouse while they went back to school to pursue their dream career. All of these things will influence the manner in which you address child custody, property division, and alimony in a divorce.
But how is property divided in Massachusetts, exactly?
The commonwealth divides property and assets in a divorce using the principle of “equitable distribution.” Let’s take a closer look at what this means and how it may affect specific types of property in a Massachusetts divorce.
“Equitable” Doesn’t Mean “Equal”
Merriam-Webster defines equitable as “having or exhibiting equity.” Equity is defined as “justice according to natural law or right,” specifically “freedom from bias or favoritism.”
Looking at these definitions, we can see that if something is equitable, it is fair and just. Applying that concept to property division, this does not necessarily mean a 50/50 or equal split. It does mean, however, a fair division of property.
How Equitable Distribution Works in Massachusetts
There are two categories of assets in a divorce: marital and separate. While there are some exceptions to the following, marital assets typically include any property obtained during a marriage, regardless of which spouse acquired it. An example might be the family home. Even if the home was purchased in one spouse’s name, it would most likely be considered a marital asset. Separate assets are those that were acquired before a marriage. Inheritances and gifts are also typically considered separate assets.
In Massachusetts, the principle of equitable distribution is applied specifically to marital assets. This may include bank and investment accounts, the family home, other real estate, motor vehicles, furniture, art, and other property that was purchased or acquired during a marriage.
To equitably distribute property in a divorce, Massachusetts courts will consider several key factors: the length of the marriage, each party’s contributions to the marriage, the nature of the property, how and when the assets were acquired, and more. From there, the court will seek to fairly divide the property between divorcing spouses. If one spouse keeps the family home, for instance, the other might keep other assets to ensure the arrangement is fair and just. The court may also consider whether there is a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement that applies to any or all property; this would supersede equitable distribution as long as the agreement was entered into lawfully.
Equitable distribution has many advantages. One of the biggest ones is the fact that it levels the playing field between divorcing spouses. Even in a marriage where one spouse may have been the breadwinner and the other stayed home with children, meaning most assets would have been purchased with money earned by the working spouse, the stay-at-home spouse would still be entitled to property in the divorce. When spouses cannot agree on property division in their divorce, the courts are called upon to ensure any resulting distribution of assets is truly equitable.
If the Courts Divide Assets Equitably, Do I Need a Lawyer?
The courts may be tasked with dividing assets fairly, but you still need to take steps to make sure your case and interests are properly presented in your divorce. That is where a skilled lawyer can make all the difference. By properly identifying assets and helping to ensure they are accurately categorized as marital or separate, your lawyer can help you get what you need to build your future. This is true whether you earned more or less than your spouse and whether you have an uncontested or contested divorce. An attorney can offer invaluable insight and protection to help you avoid being taken advantage of by your ex or by the divorce process itself.
Legal counsel is even more important if you are dealing with a high-asset divorce, own a family business, supported your spouse’s career, or have any other complicated issues to consider.
Our Massachusetts Property Division Attorneys Are Here to Help
Property division is just one of many complexities that must be addressed during a divorce. If you want to make sure your goals are understood and pursued, you need a team on your side that cares and has the skill to help. At Miller Law Group, P.C., our Massachusetts family lawyers have what it takes to protect your rights in regard to equitable distribution as well as custody (if you have children) and spousal support. As a local firm with considerable familiarity with the courts and judges in your area, we are uniquely qualified to represent our clients’ best interests and communicate their needs and concerns.
For a free, no-obligation consultation with one of our property division lawyers, give us a call at (508) 502-7002. We look forward to hearing from you.