Equitable distribution rules as applied in Massachusetts can make it difficult to predict how a court will divide property in a high-asset divorce. While “equitable” sounds much like the word “equal,” it instead refers to a standard of fairness under the law, and that standard can be subjective.
To further complicate matters, Massachusetts courts take a broad view of marital property. Where many jurisdictions draw the line at property acquired before a marriage and allow a spouse to keep that property as his or her own separate property, Massachusetts law often treats all property owned by either spouse as marital property to be divided equitably in divorce.
That makes it crucial to work with a divorce attorney experienced in protecting the interests of high-net-worth clients with complex assets.
Fairness Only Goes So Far
One question we often get is whether a spouse’s conduct during the marriage affects the equitable distribution of property in divorce. While it might seem equitable to give one spouse a greater share of property if the other spouse has been unfaithful or behaved wrongfully, generally, that is not taken into consideration in an equitable distribution of property. Fairness concerns seem to extend only to financial matters.
If a spouse’s infidelity resulted in expenses that wasted marital assets, that could result in a greater distribution for the other spouse. But a spouse will not generally be penalized in property distribution for conduct that is immoral but not financially harmful.
Factors Courts Will Consider in an Equitable Distribution
Before deciding on an equitable distribution of property, a court will consider factors such as:
- Duration of the marriage
- Age and health of each partner
- Occupations and vocational skills of each partner
- Income and opportunity for future income and acquisition of capital assets
- Contribution to the value of marital property and to the marriage home
- Tax issues
- Lifestyle enjoyed during the marriage
These last two issues often prove to be particularly complex in high-net-worth marriage situations.
Valuing and Dividing Complex Assets
For a distribution to be truly equitable, it is crucial to identify and value assets correctly. If there are concerns that one spouse may be hiding assets, we often work with forensic accountants to locate not-so-obvious property and to ensure the court is aware of its full value.
It is also important to accurately value components of executive compensation packages including restricted stock units and performance stock units. For challenging and unique property, your attorney needs to know when to call in an expert, and to ensure that your expert can present valuation information persuasively in court.
Skilled Advocacy Can Make a World of Difference in the Equitable Distribution of Property in Massachusetts
Because the equitable standard can be subject to interpretation and complex assets can be so difficult to value and divide properly, assistance from a skilled and experienced legal advocate has a greater impact in high-net-worth divorce cases than in other divorce situations.
At Koiles Pratt Family Law Group, we understand how to make the most of your opportunities when it comes to obtaining the right share of marital assets in divorce. If you are considering divorce, we invite you to contact us for a confidential strategy session.