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Understanding property rights when a marriage ends

Often in marriage the partners to the couple consider each other’s property things that they jointly own. This assumption can persist as long as the individuals live harmoniously and agree regarding the disposition of the items of personal and real property that they maintain. However, that assumption may quickly be called into question if the partners to the marriage decide that they want to divorce.

This is because not all property that individual marital partners own is marital property. Marital property is the property that the partners acquire together or the separate property that is converted to marital property due to its use for marital purposes or its conversion to marital property by the owner. Married people can and do own property separate and apart from the spouses and generally when their marriage ends that separate property remains theirs without their partners having rights to claim it.

Consider an inheritance that a married person acquires after their wedding. If the inheritance was made exclusively to one person and that person did not share or mix the inheritance with their partner or any marital property owned jointly with the partner then the recipient spouse of the inheritance may maintain it as their separate property in the event that the couple ended its marriage in divorce.

Marital property, though, must be divided during a divorce and there are a number of factors that Massachusetts courts can use to decide how the property should be split. A court may look at the ages of the spouses and their options for earning wages after their marriage is over. The court may look at accusations of fault in the marriage and may explore if the partners have personal needs that may require them to receive more property than the other. As all property matters related to divorce are assessed based on the specific needs of each case, readers with questions about property are advised to speak with their family law attorneys.