Does the Court Consider the Parties’ “Station in Life” In Dividing Marital Property?

Audra and Adam have been married for fifteen years. In that time, Audra has supported Adam while he finished medical school, underwent a medical residency, and established his practice. Audra also took care of the couple’s children. Through the years, the couple enjoyed a nice standard of living, with a primary home in a wealthy town, a vacation home in Vermont, and a boat docked in Massachusetts.

When Adam filed for divorce, he argued that most of the marital property should be considered his, as he was at times the only source of income. Audra is worried—will her life now change dramatically, and will she need to adjust to an entirely different standard of living?

The Massachusetts Probate and Family Courts use a process called equitable distribution to divide marital property in general. Here, the term “equitable” means “fair,” and not necessarily equal: the court will determine how to best divide marital property in the fairest manner in each particular case. There are many factors that the Court considers as part of this process, and one of those factors is the “station” of the parties. Likewise, the station of the parties is considered by the Court when deciding whether to grant alimony for one spouse.

The term “station in life” refers generally to the standard and mode of living that the parties enjoyed during the marriage. The Courts look to order an award of property division and alimony which would allow the parties to maintain approximately the same economic station as they enjoyed during marriage. In one case, the Massachusetts Appeals Court considered the parties’ modestly affluent lifestyle (where they had vacations, foreign travel, and private school education for their children) in granting alimony for the wife. [1]

In another case, 85% of a couple’s substantial assets were given to the wife during divorce by the Probate and Family Court, with the judge noting that the wife and her family were the source of most of the assets. On appeal, the Appeals Court held that it the trial judge gave excessive weight to the source of the assets, and “failed to allocate assets in such fashion as would enable each party to sustain an approximation of the living standard each enjoyed while married to the other.” [2]

If you have any questions about divorce and property division, you may schedule a free consultation with our office. Call 978-225-9030 during regular business hours or complete a contact form here, and we will get back to you at our earliest opportunity.

[1] Kehoe v. Kehoe, 31 Mass. App. Ct. 958 (1992).

[2] Denninger v. Denninger, 34 Mass. App. Ct. 429 (1993).