In divorce, couples are ideally able to come to a mutually acceptable agreement regarding the division of marital property. Many couples, however, are not able to do this and must have the intervention of a court to solve the matter. As we’ve previously mentioned on this blog, Massachusetts courts utilize an approach to property division known as equitable distribution.
Under Massachusetts’ equitable distribution law, the marital estate includes all property owned by either party, including property owned prior to marriage. This isn’t the case in every equitable distribution state. In addition, there is no presumption of a half-half distribution of the marital estate. In determining exactly how to distribute the marital estate, courts consider a variety of factors.
State statute lists a number of factors judges are required to consider when approaching property division. These include things such as:
- The age, health, occupation, vocational skills, employability and station in life of each party;
- The conduct of the parties during the marriage;
- The length of the marriage;
- Each parties sources and amounts of income;
- The opportunities each party has for future acquisition of income and capital assets; and
- The needs of any dependent children from the marriage.
None of these factors is more or less important than any of the others, and judges have discretion to assign an appropriate amount of weight to each. Judges are also allowed to consider the contributions each party made to the acquisition, preservation or appreciation in value of their respective estates, as well as to homemaking and caring for the family.
Because judges have such great discretion in making property division decisions, it is critical to work with an experienced attorney who can effective represent one’s interests in court.