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  • Writer's pictureSummers Family Law

When Does Violence Excuse Property Division in Divorce?

As a Massachusetts family law attorney, I've seen my fair share of contentious divorces. But some exes take things too far. When does bad behavior cross the line and legally excuse a spouse from holding up their end of a divorce agreement? A recent Appeals Court decision sheds light on this murky issue.

The Backstory

The ex-wife attacked her ex-husband with a hatchet outside his dental office, accusing him of ruining her “reunification plans” for their four children. She pled guilty to attempted murder and assault charges.

Under their divorce agreement, the husband had agreed to pay the wife over five years for her share of his dental practice. But after the attack, he stopped making payments. The wife sued him for breach of contract.

Key Legal Questions

- Can violence excuse a spouse from complying with a divorce property settlement?

- Did the violence here justify stopping payments?

Court's Analysis

The Appeals Court said yes - the husband could stop payments. The judges reasoned:

- Divorce agreements contain an implied “covenant of good faith.” Spouses must act in good faith.

- By trying to murder her ex, the wife grossly violated this covenant.

- Her attack aimed to undermine the orderly divorce agreement.

- This excused the husband from further payments.

The court rejected the wife's argument that the violence didn't affect property division rights, which can't normally be modified post-divorce. The judges said this unprecedented situation justified revisiting the issue.


While divorce agreements generally can't be modified, truly egregious post-divorce behavior may excuse obligations. Attempted murder to evade a settlement crossed that line here. But day-to-day misbehavior likely won't pass muster.

This case underscores the need for all spouses to act in good faith, even after divorce. I advise my clients to take the high road during divorce proceedings.

While the court reached the right conclusion here, violence should never be the answer in family law disputes. There are always better solutions.

Disclaimer: The content provided in this blog is for informational and educational purposes only. It should not be construed as legal advice and readers should not act upon any information provided without seeking professional legal counsel. The author does not guarantee the completeness or accuracy of the information provided. This blog is not intended to create an attorney-client relationship between the author and the reader.

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