Most marital assets are divided as a one-time payment. Think of your joint bank accounts, your house and your retirement savings. Usually, these are split between yourself and your ex, and you are done. Then there are ongoing payments like spousal support and child support.

Occasionally in a Massachusetts divorce case, a marital asset gets treated more like spousal support. And it could be earnings the paying spouse has not even acquired yet.

Book royalties earned after divorce ruled to be marital asset

In a 2015 decision, the Massachusetts Appeals Court ruled that the ex-husband of a novelist was entitled to a portion of the royalties from her book and proceeds from the sale of the novel’s movie rights. The wife wrote the book during the marriage. The husband paid all the household expenses, as well as some of her student loan payments.

The book was published and began selling successfully. The wife’s agent negotiated a deal for the novel’s movie rights, further increasing the wife’s income. Meanwhile, the couple’s marriage deteriorated and eventually ended. During divorce proceedings, a dispute arose over whether the husband was entitled to a portion of the wife’s future earnings from the novel.

The Appeals Court ruled that those future earnings were a marital asset that was subject to division under state law. Because those earnings were guaranteed by contract, they were more than “mere expectancies.” However, the court noted that as time passed, the husband’s contributions to the book’s sales would become “attenuated,” and the wife’s payment obligation would not last “indefinitely.”

Fair division of assets

While book royalties may not be an issue in your divorce, you will have several assets to divide with your spouse. To ensure you get a property settlement you can live with, you need to retain a skilled divorce attorney.