One of the most contentious issues arising in divorce proceedings will often be the division of the parties' assets. In Massachusetts, the courts follow an equitable system of division, meaning they seek to divide property "fairly," not necessarily "equally." There are cases in which the marital estate seems to have been reduced by the irresponsible or intentional conduct of one party (party A), which ostensibly has the result of diminishing the eventual share of the marital estate that each party will retain.
The inclusion - or non-inclusion - of beneficial trust interests in the marital estate for purposes of an asset division incident to a divorce is quite often a hotly contested issue. How does one account for a trust interest in a divorce? Did the trustee make any distributions during the marriage? Is the trust terminating anytime soon? If so, for what reason? And if it terminates, what happens to the principal? Is it - or its potential future acquisition - considered property?
From a legal perspective, getting hitched in Massachusetts is fairly quick and simple, requiring little more than a valid marriage license and a proper officiant. It is not even necessary to be wed by a clergy member or Justice of the Peace, as anyone over the age of 18 in reasonably good character can receive a one-day designation to solemnize the marriage. Divorce, on the other hand, is rarely if ever as easy or efficient, and contested proceedings take months and even years to finalize.
All clients involved in litigation need money to pay their counsel's legal bills, which include the initial retainer fee, fees incurred during the pendency of the litigation, and often replenishing the retainer fee. A client obtaining a divorce, however, has a unique problem in that they are precluded from dissipating marital assets -- i.e., using marital assets for their own use when the marriage is coming to an end and with the intent of depriving the other spouse of his or her fair share of the marital estate. Although the payment of reasonable counsel fees is not a violation of the automatic financial restraining order under Rule 411, even in the absence of a motion for counsel fees pendente lite, using joint marital assets to pay one party's counsel's fees reduces the total amount of the marital estate, thereby depriving the other spouse of their fair share of equitable distribution of all marital assets at the conclusion of the case.