Property division in a divorce is controlled by G.L. c. 208, §34 which lists the factors for a judge to consider when making a decision about property division. Usually, the judge makes a division somewhere between a 50-50 split and a 60-40 split. Sometimes, the judge may make a more lopsided division of 65-35 or even 70-30. It is almost unheard of for a judge to divide the assets by an 80-20 split. In the recent case of Wolcott v. Wolcott, 78 Mass.App.Ct. 539 (2011), the court did the unthinkable and awarded the husband 90% of the assets. This lopsided division was based on highly unusual circumstances.
In this case, the wife tried to hire someone to kill the husband and may even have tried to kill him herself. She was convicted of attempting to hire a hitman and served three months in jail. The appeals court found that “conviction of a spouse of the crime of soliciting the murder of the other spouse” was “exceptional” conduct that shocked the conscience of the court and would “have an impact on the ‘conduct’ factor under [§ 34] irrespective of ‘economic impact.’” However, the attempt to murder the spouse alone, would not have justified such a lopsided result. In addition to the wrongful conduct, the court looked at the economic effect from the wrongful conduct. The court found that the wife’s conduct forced the husband to “take on total responsibility for the children’s care”; “makes [the husband] totally responsible for maintaining the parties’ home”; and will “always” adversely affect the husband as it “diminishes his ability to be totally focused on life and work issues.” The wrongful conduct and the economic consequences justified an award to the husband of 90% of the marital assets.
The lesson learned from this case is that it is cheaper to divorce a spouse than to try to kill the spouse. As always, compliance with the law is better than violation of the law.