February 25, 2019

Separate and Marital Property: Who Owns What?

Marital Property

When you get married, you merge your life, finances, and possessions with your partner’s, making your property shared. After the wedding, what is legally shared and what remains your own can be confusing to sort through. Here are the classifications and types of property now that you’re legally bound to your partner.

Property Classifications

In a marriage, there are two types of property: marital and separate property.

Marital Property

Generally, marital property is everything that either of you earned or acquired during your marriage. For example, earnings that you use to pay household bills is marital property. Along with wages, the vehicles that you own and make payments on from your earnings would also be considered marital property.

Separate Property

Separate property belongs only to one spouse. Each state defines separate differently, but the same general rules apply. The most common forms of separate property are:

  • Property one spouse owned before the marriage.
  • Gifts received by one spouse before or during the marriage.
  • Property acquired during the marriage in one spouse’s name and never used for the benefit of the other spouse or the marriage.
  • Inheritances received before or during the marriage.
  • Property that the spouses agree in writing is separate, as long as the writing meets your state’s standards for that type of agreement or a post-nuptial agreement.
  • Property acquired by one spouse using separate property assets with the intention of keeping it separate.
  • Certain personal injury awards (in general, the portion of the award that repays you for lost earnings is marital property, while an award for pain and suffering is separate).

These rules apply no matter whose name is on the title document to a particular piece of property. For example, a married woman in a community property state may own a car in only her name, but legally, her husband may own a half-interest. Here are some other examples:

  • A computer your spouse inherited during the marriage would remain your spouse’s separate property because it was inherited by one spouse alone.
  • A car you owned before marriage would remain your separate property because it was owned by you, one spouse, before marriage.
  • A boat, owned and registered in your name, which you bought during your marriage with your income would be marital property because marital income was used to purchase the boat.
  • A family home, which has both names on the deed, and was bought with your earnings would be marital property because it was bought with marital income.
  • A camera you received as a gift would be considered your separate property because gifts made to one spouse or another are separate property.
  • A checking account owned by you and your spouse, into which you put a $5,000 inheritance 20 years ago would be considered marital property because the $5,000 has become mixed with community property funds.

Keep in mind that you can change the terms of your marital property ownership before your marriage with a written agreement- often called a prenuptial agreement.

GCW Lawyers Can Help

Navigating the waters between separate and marital property can be confusing. Dividing up assets is never easy but the experienced family law attorneys at GCW can help simplify the process. Contact us today for a free consultation.