Does my useless pile of #@!* spouse get half of my property in divorce!?

Although contributions to the marriage is a key factor in property division under MA divorce law, as a practical matter, the longer your marriage, the greater the likelihood that your “lazy spouse” will receive a significant share of the marital assets.

There are a number of factors the court must take into account in determining how to divide property in divorce: length of the marriage, conduct during the marriage, age, health, station, occupation, amount and sources of income, vocational skills, employability, estate, liabilities, needs, opportunity to acquire assets and additional income, amount and duration of alimony, contributions to acquisition, preservation, or appreciation in value of assets, contribution as homemaker, and needs of the children.

As you can see, there are a lot of factors to consider. And judges can choose how much weight they give to each factor. So the bottom line is that they have a significant amount of discretion in determining a “fair” division of assets.

First, let’s be clear that taking care of the home and the children counts as “non-economic” contributions. Although less common today than a couple of decades ago, there are families in which one spouse is the breadwinner, and the other spouse tends to the house and kids. Those contributions are significant and are factored into the analysis of the parties’ efforts.

Generally, in a shorter marriage, contributions seem to be of greater importance in analyzing property division. On the other hand, in a long-term marriage, if a party’s contributions were limited, it’s nonetheless difficult for a judge to justify sending one of the parties off with nothing.

That’s because there are so many other factors that the court must consider that give the courts discretion to ensure that the financially weaker party is sustained post-divorce.

For example, alimony is an important factor in “lazy spouse” cases. Alimony and property division are intertwined. The more a spouse is receiving in alimony, theoretically, the less likely a judge is to give that spouse a larger portion of the marital assets, and vice versa.

The bottom line is that the longer the marriage, the less likely it is that the court is going to resolve the case in a manner that will result in the taxpayers having to eventually support the financially weaker spouse. And judges have the discretion to craft alimony and property division judgments in a manner that reduces the risk of that happening.

There’s a balance between rewarding contributions and ensuring the parties don’t walk away empty handed and broke. The shorter the marriage, the higher the likelihood that contributions weighs more heavily, and the longer the marriage, the greater the interest in ensuring the financially weaker party is sustained post-divorce.

Judges have wide discretion to do what they deem “fair” so long as they consider all the factors. But generally, it seems that the longer you supported your “lazy spouse,” the greater the chances you’ll have to give up some property and pay support.