A step-by-step guide to the property valuation process in massachusetts
One of the main worries of divorcing couples is how their property will be valued and distributed after the divorce. Your family home, car, and other assets must first be assigned a value before they can be distributed. It is important to get an accurate and fair valuation of your assets to ensure that you receive you fair share. You and your spouse can either agree on the value of your assets or, if an agreement can’t be reached, evidence can be produced relating to what you and your spouse individually believe the value of the property to be through expert testimony and a judge can determine the value at trial. Below, we discuss how property is generally assigned a value in Massachusetts as well as the factors the court considers in deciding how the property is to be divided.
Massachusetts is what is known as an “equitable distribution” state. This means that all the assets a couple has (which includes equity and debt) is divided in a way that the court finds fair, which is often 50/50, but not always. All property owned by either you or your spouse is considered within your marital estate; it does not matter if the property is only in one of your names. And just because you entered the marriage with certain property, that does not mean it will always remain your property or will not be considered during the divorce. (If you’re getting married and you have property that you want to be considered yours if you and your future spouse get a divorce, call us about a prenuptial agreement.)
The easiest way to establish the value of the property to be divided is for each party to agree on what it is worth. If you both agree upon an appraiser, you can usually just agree to utilize the appraised amount as the property’s value. If you disagree with the appraised value, you can always have an independent appraiser provide a valuation. If you and your spouse remain unable to agree upon the value of property, then it becomes a trial issue and the judge will have to decide. In order for the judge to do so, you will likely have to call the appraisers to provide information about the property and their valuation if the other side does not agree to allow their reports in as an agreed upon exhibit at trial. If the parties are unable to agree on the value of certain property, they must then have a judge do so in an evidentiary hearing.
Once all of the property has been assigned a value, the court must next determine how to fairly distribute the property between you and your spouse. Property is usually divided in one of two ways; first, with one party receiving ownership of the property and the other person being “bought out” of his or her share of the equity in the property, or second, the property can be sold and the profit split between the parties. Remember, “split” does not always mean equally. To determine how property is to be divided, the court looks at a number of factors and then has discretion on how to divide everything after considering all of the factors. The factors that the court considers are of equal weight and include:
- The length of the marriage
- Vocational skills
- Estates, liabilities, and needs of each of the parties
- Possibility of future acquisition of capital assets and income
- Alimony, if applicable
- Present and future needs of the children, if applicable
- Contribution of each party in the acquisition, preservation, or appreciation in value of their respective estates
- Contribution of each party as a homemaker
Protecting the interests of divorce clients in Massachusetts
At O’Connor Family Law, we understand the importance of property valuation and distribution during a divorce and are dedicated to protecting our clients’ interests, which you want to do as quickly as possible when a divorce is pending in order to preserve your rights in such property. If you are a Massachusetts resident who is considering divorce, please contact our office at (744) 314-4725 or visit us online at www.familylawma.com for more information.