Title of Property in Massachusetts Divorce Actions
Is title important in Massachusetts divorce cases?
My house is in my name alone – does my spouse have any rights to my house?
If a property is held in just one spouse’s name, does the other spouse have a right to that property in a Massachusetts divorce?
My spouse intentionally left me off the title to our family home – do I have any rights?
These are common questions for married people that are involved in a divorce case. The answer to these questions is not simply yes, or no, as you might expect. The law in Massachusetts can be quite complicated in regards to property division where an asset is held in one spouse’s name.
There are many considerations involved in answering these questions. For example, how long have the parties been married? Was the property owned by one spouse prior to marriage? Was property put into one party’s name because the other party has bad credit? What happened during the marriage that increased the value of the property? Were both parties contributing to the “marital enterprise”? Are children involved? Did one spouse act in “bad faith” when acquiring property in his or her name alone? Is there a premarital agreement signed by the parties before marriage?
When a divorce court in Massachusetts is determining how to divide property between parties, the judge must follow the law in Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 208, Section 34. This section lists about a dozen factors that the court must (or in some cases may) consider when dividing property and/or ordering alimony. This section requires the judge to consider how long parties have been married, what assets the parties own, what the likelihood of future acquisition of the parties may reasonably look like, and so on.
The general rule of thumb to begin the analysis of property division is to determine whether property is “marital property” or not. Property is generally considered “marital property” if the right to the property was acquired during the marriage. The idea is that marriage is a partnership, and the “partners” of the marriage each contribute to the marriage in different ways. For example, one spouse may work full time and the other may stay home and raise children. Or perhaps both parties work and contribute in some way to paying bills and acquiring assets.
Inheritances and gifts from third parties are not generally considered marital property, regardless of when they are acquired.
However, the Probate and Family Court judge is not bound to divide only property that is “marital property”. The law specifically allows judges to assign one party’s separate property to the other party in a divorce action. Usually, when attorneys and judges talk about “separate property”, they are referring to property that was brought into the marriage or property acquired by gift or inheritance. There have been many cases where parties are married for a long time and when one party receives an inheritance or large gift, it is considered by the judge in dividing assets “equitably” among the parties.
When property is titled in one spouse’s name, the “character” of the property should be examined before anyone can say whether it might be divided in a divorce case or not. Was the property brought into the marriage and the marital partners did nothing to increase the value? In that case, it might be likely that the court would not divide the asset absent some compelling reason to do so. If a property is acquired during the marriage and simply titled in one party’s name, the property is likely “marital property” regardless of the title designation.
For more information about property division at divorce, please click here. For more information about which spouse “gets the house” in a divorce case, click here.
To get more information about divorce or to schedule a free, private consultation, click here. As detailed above, the law with regard to dividing assets upon divorce is complicated. This article is not meant to convey any legal advice and is informational only. If you have any questions about facts involved in your case, contact an attorney today.