The length of the marriage is a factor which must be considered by the judge in making an assignment of property.
Length of the marriage is related in large part to the concept of marriage as a partnership. The equities of assigning to one party a portion of the other’s estate are clearly diminished where the marriage is only of brief duration. Often, however, the quality and length of the marriage are such that the estate of one partner is enhanced by the direct, or indirect contributions of the other spouse.
The words “length of marriage” have not been applied exact mathematical precision. Although precise mathematical categories are not used, the statutory terms can be applied in terms of general classifications. One experienced probate judge suggested that marriages of seven years or less can be categorized as short-term, that marriages between seven years and fifteen years of marriage of intermediate length, and that marriages of more than fifteen years are long-term marriages.
In one case the Supreme Judicial Court characterized a marriage in which the parties cohabited for only two years as a short-term marriage. In such cases, there is less likely to be economic interdependence between the parties, i.e. the reality of marital partnership is less formed and developed than in the case of a long-term marriage.
This is not to say that a short-term marriage cannot ever justify a substantial property division. One can imagine a five year marriage in which the wife has given birth to several children, experienced health problems, given up her career, and accumulated no assets in her name, while the husband has developed his career and substantially increased his net worth; in such a hypothetical case the court is likely to provide for a generous property assignment in favor of the wife.
The length of the marriage is only one factor, among many others stated in M.G.L. chapter 208, § 34, which must be considered by the judge in making an assignment of property.
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