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Is your home marital or separate property when you divorce?

Most mortgages last for 30 years, although those with home equity lines of credit or second mortgages may spend even longer paying off their houses. After investing decades of income into a property, you probably view it as a crucial financial asset as well as your primary residence.

Both the emotional and financial value of your home can lead to conflict about your real estate holdings when you divorce. People can get into very messy court battles over the home they shared while married. How do you know if your home is marital or separate property during a Massachusetts divorce?

Marital homes are occasionally one spouse’s separate property

Perhaps the most clear-cut situation in which a home is separate property is when someone owned it prior to marriage. Either they bought it and had paid it off already or they inherited it from family members. What matters is that they owned the property outright before their marriage, which frequently makes it separate property.

A marital agreement could also designate the home as one spouse’s separate property. An inheritance received during marriage will usually be separate property, provided that the spouse who owns the home avoids commingling. 

It’s common for houses to be marital property

Even when someone owned the property prior to marriage or inherits it in their name alone, their spouse can sometimes lay claim to at least part of its value when they divorce. If the couple uses marital assets for maintenance of the home or payments on necessary household expenses like property taxes, that may make the home at least partially a marital asset.

In fact, the home’s value can play a role even if it belongs only to one spouse. In cases where the home might remain separate property, the courts may use it as part of a plan to provide spousal support to a dependent spouse in a divorce. Many couples buy a home together during their marriage. Properties acquired during the marriage or with marital income will typically be subject to division in a Massachusetts divorce under equitable distribution rules.

Understanding how the courts will likely deal with your home can make it easier for you to plan for the property division process in your upcoming Massachusetts divorce.