Understanding marital versus separate property in divorce

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When couples in Massachusetts decide to call it quits, one of the challenges they face is dividing assets, money and other property they have accumulated over their marriage. Since no one enters into marriage with the belief that it will end, it is not uncommon for couples to have joint bank accounts, property that holds both their names on it and even business holdings. Therefore, it is important for people to understand what is considered marital property in Massachusetts and what is considered separate property.

Marital property

According to the Massachusetts Legislature, anything of value accrued during a marriage is generally considered marital property. This includes the following:

  • Military benefits
  • Real estate
  • Insurance policies
  • Cash
  • Retirement plans
  • Investments

From the moment a marriage begins until the day that it is legally ended on paper through a filing of legal separation or for divorce, property acquired by either spouse is considered part of the marital estate. This property may be divided fairly equally among spouses or a judge may choose to award most of it or all of it to just one spouse.

Separate property

Separate property is considered property which was owned by the spouses prior to the beginning of the marriage. However, according to Forbes, there are exceptions to this rule. For example, if a wife receives a diamond bracelet from her husband as a birthday gift, that bracelet is considered separate property. Another exception is inheritances. If a husband inherits a piece of real estate or money after the death of a parent, that inheritance would be separate property.

Compensation from a personal injury lawsuit is also exempt from marital property law if it is for pain and suffering. Compensation for punitive judgment might be subjected to property division during the divorce.

Separate property that turns into marital property

While these laws seem fairly black and white, it is possible for separate property to turn into marital property. For instance, one spouse owned a home prior to the marriage. However, during the marriage, the spouse had added the other spouse's name to the property's title. Due to that legal change, the property is now owned by both spouses and therefore, is now marital property.

Some portions of pre-existing retirement plans may also be considered marital property under Massachusetts's law. The money added to the plan during the marriage, as well as the interest that the retirement plan accrued during the marriage might be counted as property owned by both spouses.

Legal help

For couples who own a significant amount of real estate, art pieces or even a family business, dividing marital property can quickly become complicated. To ensure that people receive a fair and accurate property division settlement, it may be a good idea to consult with a family law attorney.