Does equitable distribution in Massachusetts mean equal?

The termination of the marriage is rarely the most hotly contested aspect of a divorce. Chances are that by the time the decision has been made to file for divorce, neither party is prepared to spend a lot of time or money to keep the marriage together.

Property division issues become important because they affect where each of the spouses will live, their standard of living, retirement plans and other post-divorce aspects of their lives. It is important, therefore, to understand how the courts in Massachusetts handle the division of assets in a divorce.

Equitable distribution refers to the method by which Salem courts determine how property that the parties acquired during their marriage should be allocated in the divorce. There are several issues that must be dealt with, including how the property was acquired, when it was acquired and the contributions each of the spouses made to acquiring or improving it.

One thing that is clear under the law is that equitable distribution does not impose any obligation on judges to order an equal property division. The law asks judges to consider a number of factors in deciding on a distribution that would be equitable under the circumstances. These factors include:

  • How long the parties were married to each other
  • The age and health of the parties
  • Whether the parties are working and their incomes relative to each other
  • The employability of the parties and their vocational skills
  • The needs of dependent children
  • Non-economic contributions by a spouse who served as the homemaker

Deciding which assets constitute marital property subject to equitable distribution and which assets should be treated as separate property to be retained by one of the spouses frequently depends upon documentation evidencing how the asset was acquired. These are issues that are beyond the scope of this posting which cannot substitute for the legal advice of a knowledgeable divorce attorney.

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