Many clients assume Massachusetts is a “community property” state that splits marital assets on a strict 50/50 basis when a couple is divorcing. This is not the case. Instead, Massachusetts courts divide property in a manner they see as equitable or fair. Couples could end up with an even split, but the court may find it fair to award substantially more to one spouse.
Factors that Affect Equitable Property Division by Courts in Massachusetts
The Massachusetts Code provides a laundry list of factors courts are supposed to consider when determining how to divide assets of divorcing spouses. These include:
- Length of the marriage
- Each spouse’s conduct during the marriage
- The age, health, and “station” of each spouse
- Occupations and incomes
- Vocational skills and employability
- Needs of each spouse
- Opportunity to acquire assets and income in the future
- The amount and duration of any alimony awarded
- Needs of any dependent children
In addition, the court can also consider other factors such as contributions made as a homemaker or ways a partner helped with preservation or appreciation of assets.
The laws do not provide guidance about how much weight should be given to each factor, so it can be left to a judge’s discretion to decide what is fair in light of the couple’s circumstances. It is a good idea for a divorcing spouse to work with a divorce attorney who understands how to best present evidence weighing in that spouse’s favor for property division.
Do All Divorcing Couples in Massachusetts Need to Follow These Guidelines?
Fortunately, many couples do not need to roll the dice and guess how a judge will divide their assets. When couples negotiate their own property division as part of a separation agreement arranged out of court, they can ignore the factors listed by the legislature and devise their own plan for a fair split.
As a practical matter, couples often start with the concept that their property will be divided on a 50/50 basis and then adjust to account for other factors. For instance, if one spouse worked to support the family while the other attended medical school, the spouse who received the advanced education might contribute more to the other to provide the opportunity for that spouse to further their education.
Looking at the Big Picture in Divorce
Divorcing couples need to divide their debts and other obligations as well as their assets. Even if a debt is the legal responsibility of both parties, it may be fair to assign it to a single spouse, depending on the circumstances.
Couples also need to consider how to handle property they owned before the marriage, plus gifts and bequests. This property could be treated as separate individual property, but it could also become marital property over the course of the marriage.
Finally, it is also critical to review any parental obligations and determine how tax benefits will be allocated. When couples work with an experienced divorce attorney, their legal advisor can ensure that they have accounted for all the relevant factors that financially impact their lives.
Help with Property Division in Massachusetts
Whether you are negotiating the terms of an amicable divorce or fighting to protect your rights in an antagonistic split, advice and representation from a seasoned Massachusetts divorce lawyer can enable you to emerge prepared for the future. For a confidential consultation to learn how the attorneys at Koiles Pratt Family Law Group could help you make the most of your opportunities, contact us now.