My friends are all telling me different things about what to expect in terms of who gets what under MA law. What can you tell me?
You may be hearing so many explanations because Massachusetts law does not provide a cut and dry answer but, rather, gives a great deal of discretion to the family court when dividing property or awarding alimony. Generally speaking, if you were married a 'long time' it is more likely that the marital estate will be divided equally. If the marriage did not last long, then courts will often try to return the parties to the situation they were in before they got married. When it comes to the division of property in divorce, Massachusetts is an "equitable division" state, meaning the judge will try to do what is fair. That determination, however, will vary from case to case and even from judge to judge.
I know, not very helpful. To confuse the issue further, the family court can consider other factors, such as what your assets were at the time of the marriage, or whether one spouse is sick or disabled. Also, even though Massachusetts has a no fault divorce system, courts can consider marital fault when dividing assets and awarding alimony. For more information, you can check out Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 208, Section 34. Once you hire an attorney, if you have not yet, he or she should be able to use her experience to give you a more informative answer to your question, based on the facts and circumstances of your situation. FYI, here is a relevant portion of Section 34:
In addition to or in lieu of a judgment to pay alimony, the court may assign to either husband or wife all or any part of the estate of the other, including but not limited to, all vested and nonvested benefits, rights and funds accrued during the marriage and which shall include, but not be limited to, retirement benefits, military retirement benefits if qualified under and to the extent provided by federal law, pension, profit-sharing, annuity, deferred compensation and insurance. In determining the amount of alimony, if any, to be paid, or in fixing the nature and value of the property, if any, to be so assigned, the court, after hearing the witnesses, if any, of each party, shall consider the length of the marriage, the conduct of the parties during the marriage, the age, health, station, occupation, amount and sources of income, vocational skills, employability, estate, liabilities and needs of each of the parties and the opportunity of each for future acquisition of capital assets and income. In fixing the nature and value of the property to be so assigned, the court shall also consider the present and future needs of the dependent children of the marriage. The court may also consider the contribution of each of the parties in the acquisition, preservation or appreciation in value of their respective estates and the contribution of each of the parties as a homemaker to the family unit.
For those who wish to do additional research on the subject, there are numerous MA appellate court cases discussing the concept of equitable division of property in divorce. See, e.g., Bacon v. Bacon, 26 Mass. App. Ct. 117 (1988), in which the court states that the judge in a divorce is not required to divide the marital assets and property in an equal, 50/50 manner, but should seek an equitable division based on the unique facts of the case and the factors spelled out in M.G.L. c. 208 s. 34.