What happens if one spouse builds a house and the other spouse does not help?

Photo of Carlos A. Maycotte

In a recent 1:28 decision, the Appeals Court of Massachusetts considered a challenge to a judge’s order that real estate acquired by the Husband prior to the marriage should remain with the Husband following the divorce.

The Wife appealed a divorce judgment where the judge had awarded a property in Ethiopia to the Husband. She claimed that the judge erred in that division and asked the Appeals Court to overturn the judge’s decision.

The Appeals Court declined to do so, deferring to the judge’s findings and judgment. The judge found that the Husband had acquired the land in Ethiopia and started building a house on it prior to the parties getting married. The judge also found that the Wife had not assisted in building the house or overseeing its build – that she provided no contribution, financial or otherwise, to the property. Because there was no evidence of any contribution by the Wife to the acquisition or maintenance of the property, the judge allowed the Husband to retain the property, rather than order it be sold and its proceeds divided.

The contribution of each party to the acquisition and maintenance of property is frequently one of the most important factors that a court considers when assessing what would constitute an equitable division of the marital estate. It is often given great weight in an M.G.L. c. 208 s. 34 analysis. Evidence supporting that factor should always be presented at any divorce trial where the asset division remains an issue.


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