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MA divorce with inheritance before marriage

After eight years of legal marriage in Massachusetts, my cheating spouse and I have agreed to divorce. She quit her job after a year or so of marriage to pursue a number of new careers, none of which panned out. When we had our first son four years ago, she was working several hours a week as a consultant, and so we agreed she would be a stay-at-home parent. My mother died several years before the marriage, but her house was finally sold and I received a substantial sum from the sale, which I then put into renovations the house I had purchased (with my wife- I paid all the bills and mortgage). Now that we are getting a divorce, my lawyer says that I am entitled to get the money I put into the house out of it, and so although we need to share the proceeds from selling our marital home, I also should get the (significant) money that I put into it. What rights does my wife have to an inheritance that I received before we were married, but cashed in during the marriage? Are there any rules about this?

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Dear xwife88: I am not so sure that you are going to get back the money you put into the house, from inheritance funds you received DURING the marriage. Regardless of when you "inherited" the interest in your mother's estate, you received it during the marriage. If your attorney feels he or she can get you those funds, I'd ask for whatever case law they are relying on. The general rule in Massachusetts is anything incurred or gained in the marriage belongs to the marital estate, ie: it belongs equally to both of you. Litigation is costly; if this is the only issue you and she are disputing, try to determine how much it is going to cost you to fight about the money. Attorneys well deserve to get paid for their work, but be wary if the fees you will pay to your attorney will significantly reduce the money you will get in the end. The "rules about this" would be a previously decided case by an appeals court, where that court ruled in a similar situation that the inheriting party was solely entitled to recoup funds invested into the marital home. Absent a clear precedent, it is an issue to be resolved by negotiation or by a judge at trial. Again, taking a case all the way to and through a trial will cost you a lot to legal fees.

If a married person's inheritance was kept in a separate account and not commingled with accounts or assets shared with the spouse, would that make a difference? Would that heir retain the full amount for him/her upon divorce?

Dear Mayflower: Massachusetts divorce law requires division of all property of the spouses during a divorce. Whether or not the inheritance money was kept in a separate account or not does not exclude it from being "marital property" subject to equitable division between the parties upon divorce. The only real exception to this would be if the parties had a prenuptial agreement, ie. a written agreement made before the marriage about how property would be divided if there were to be a divorce in the future. The law also requires prenuptial agreements not to be patently unfair, and in some rare instances even their planned division of assets is over-ruled by a court. If you do not want the risk of at sometime in the future of dividing your assets with someone else, the solution is not to get married.

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