What Is Marital Property And How Is It Divided In A Divorce?

When facing the emotional process of a divorce, one of the most significant concerns for many is understanding what happens to the property acquired during the marriage. At Reade Law Firm, PC, we’re here to guide you through the complexities of dividing marital property, ensuring you feel supported and informed every step. This blog aims to demystify the concept of marital property in Massachusetts and explain how it’s divided during a divorce while maintaining a professional yet approachable tone.

Defining Marital Property

Marital property includes almost everything acquired by either spouse during the marriage, regardless of whose name is on the title. This can range from real estate, vehicles, furniture, and savings accounts to pensions and retirement accounts accumulated during the marriage. It’s essential to understand that Massachusetts does not strictly adhere to a community property system. Instead, the state follows an “equitable distribution” model, aiming to divide marital property fairly but not equally.

The Equitable Distribution Principle

Equitable distribution might seem straightforward, but it involves careful consideration of numerous factors to ensure fairness to both parties. This principle does not guarantee a 50/50 split but seeks a just and reasonable division based on the couple’s circumstances. Factors considered include the length of the marriage, each spouse’s economic and non-economic contributions, age, health, and employability, as well as the needs of any children from the marriage.

Factors Considered in Dividing Marital Property

In Massachusetts, the division of marital property during a divorce is governed by the principle of equitable distribution, which seeks to divide assets fairly but not necessarily equally. The court considers a variety of factors to ensure that the division reflects the circumstances of the marriage and the needs of both parties. Here is an expanded explanation of the factors considered:

  • Contributions to the Marriage: The court evaluates both financial and non-financial contributions made by each spouse to the marriage. Financial contributions include wages, salaries, and any efforts to increase the family’s assets, such as managing investments or running a family business. Non-financial contributions encompass homemaking, raising children, supporting the spouse’s career or education, and any other efforts that contributed to the well-being and financial security of the family. This comprehensive view recognizes the diverse ways in which spouses can contribute to a marriage’s success and aims to ensure that both types of contributions are valued in the division of property.
  • Conduct of the Parties: Although Massachusetts primarily focuses on an equitable division of property without considering marital misconduct, there are circumstances where the conduct of the parties during the marriage may be relevant. For example, if one spouse’s actions have led to the dissipation or waste of marital assets (such as through gambling, illegal activities, or an affair that significantly impacted the family’s finances), the court may consider this when determining how to divide the property. However, this factor is used with discretion and is not the primary basis for decisions regarding property division.
  • Economic Circumstances: The economic circumstances of each spouse at the time of the divorce and their prospective financial situations are crucial considerations. This includes evaluating each person’s current income, earning capacity, and potential for future asset acquisition and income generation. The court assesses factors such as age, health, job skills, employability, and the presence of any barriers to employment. The goal is to ensure that the division of property allows both spouses to maintain a reasonable standard of living post-divorce and acknowledges the economic realities faced by each party.
  • Custody of Children: When children are involved, their well-being and needs become a significant factor in dividing marital property. The court considers the custodial arrangements and the financial implications for the custodial parent, who may require a larger share of the assets or specific items (such as the family home) to provide stability and continuity for the children. The division of property may also reflect the need to support the children’s education, healthcare, and other expenses, ensuring that their standard of living is maintained to the extent possible.

Practical Steps for Preparing for Property Division

To go through the process smoothly, it’s beneficial to:

  • Inventory Your Assets and Debts: List all assets and debts, categorizing them as marital or separate property.
  • Consider Future Needs: Consider your post-divorce financial needs, including housing, employment, and retirement plans.
  • Stay Open to Negotiation: Flexibility can lead to more satisfactory outcomes for both parties, often through mediation or negotiated settlements.

Going Through Property Division with Confidence

Let the knowledgeable team at Reade Law Firm, PC, empower you to find your best way forward during and after the divorce. We help you achieve the objectives that mean the most to you while preserving your peace of mind. Contact us today to schedule a confidential consultation. Whether you’re concerned about dividing marital property or any other aspect of your divorce, we’re here to help. Contact us online or call us at (978) 767-8383 to schedule a confidential consultation.