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High-asset divorce property division: the need for legal counsel

A Massachusetts family law appeals case decided last year has garnered significant press in the wake of the appellate court’s ruling, and for a materially notable reason. We revisit the case in today’s blog post, given its potential utility for our clients and other state residents who are centrally concerned with an equitable division of marital assets during divorce.

There is of course a clear bifurcation going into the divorce process between so-called “separate” and “marital” property. The bottom line is that the former signifies assets held solely by or for the interest of only one married partner, with no intent for those assets to be in play when a court considers a marriage-ending property division. Marital property, conversely, encompasses all assets that are subject to division.

The case above involved an irrevocable trust established by a father for the stated benefit of his married son and other immediate family members. The trust contained a spendthrift provision that barred its assets from creditors. The son’s wife was intended to be excluded from any benefits that flowed from the trust.

During the couple’s marriage, trustees made multiple and quite sizable payments to the son, which the appeals court found were relied upon by both the beneficiary and his wife as married partners. In fact, the court stated its view that the trust was “woven into the fabric of the marriage.”

The beneficiary argued against the trust being construed as marital property, given that the trustees in their discretion had stopped making distributions and because the spendthrift clause barred distributions deemed as being for the benefit of parties other than him.

Those arguments did not resonate with the court, given the couple’s joint reliance on trust proceeds during their marriage. The court ruled the trust to be marital property and divisible in the couple’s divorce process.

Clearly, the case demonstrates how easily a family law matter regarding assets can turn complex and weighty.

Indeed, property division matters in a high-asset divorce are often complicated. A Massachusetts resident with questions or concerns about asset division in a divorce might reasonably want to consult with a proven family law attorney with demonstrated experience promoting the rights and interests of divorce clients in complex property division matters.

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