Worcester, MA (WorkersCompensation.com) – While it’s not common, the world of workers’ compensation law might find its way into divorce court from time to time.
That was the case in Warnajtys vs. Warnajtys, No. 18-P-1566 (Mass. App. Ct. 06/16/20), where a Massachusetts court held that a husband’s workers’ compensation settlement was marital property, and $50,000 of it was an appropriate award to the wife as part of the couple’s divorce.
After divorce proceedings began, the husband received a $240,000 workers’ compensation settlement for a workplace accident that occurred three years earlier, before any divorce papers had been filed. Some of the money had been distributed to the husband and wife, but $123,230 remained in escrow pending the outcome of the divorce.
At trial, the judge treated the settlement as a marital asset and awarded the $50,000 to the wife. The husband appealed, arguing that a workers’ compensation settlement is not a divisible marital asset under Massachusetts law and so none of the money should have gone to the wife.
Courts in Massachusetts have held that all personal property, tangible and intangible, in which a spouse acquires an interest counts as marital property. Thus, the Massachusetts Appels Court upheld the lower court’s decision.
“A workers’ compensation claim … is an ‘unliquidated claim for money damages,’” the court explained, “and thus ‘fall[s] within the divorce court’s broad power to divide marital property.”
Arriving at the Amount
The appeals court also affirmed the $50,000 number, explaining that the lower court judge was “thoughtful and well-reasoned” in deciding on the amount the wife should receive from the husband’s settlement. In the appeals court’s analysis, the following factors backed up the award:
- The husband was in average health and continuously employed before the injury.
- The wife maintained primary physical custody of the couple’s only child since their 2016 separation.
- The wife’s “modest income and inconsistent work history.”
- The 8-year length of the marriage.
- he wife would buy out the husband’s $105,000 share in the marital home.
“There is ample evidence that the judge considered the equities in light of the parties’ equal contributions to the marriage, their ages, health, and other statutory considerations,” the court explained.