Understanding Marital Property

If you and your spouse are contemplating a divorce filing, you will undoubtedly encounter the term "marital property" at some point in the process. This term can be somewhat confusing since it often doesn't include what you may think it does. Additionally, what is considered marital property can vary somewhat from state to state, depending on whether you live in a community property state or an equitable distribution state. To get a quick primer on the meaning of marital property, read on.

What is meant by marital property?

Any property that came into ownership during the marriage is considered marital property. This category can include homes, cars, boats, artwork, gold, money in bank accounts and investment accounts, stocks, bonds, and more. In community property states, all marital property is generally split right down the middle, 50/50. However, in an equitable distribution state, the joint property is often also split down the middle, unless one party can show proof that they were the sole owner of the property through a gift, inheritance or other means.

What is not included in the marital property bucket?

If it isn't marital property, it's considered separate property. This property is owned in its entirety by one or the other party, and not by both together. The following are some examples of separate property, which will be owned by one party throughout the marriage and afterward:

  • Property owned prior to the marriage.
  • Property owned once the marriage ended (through divorce).
  • Property that was given as a gift to only one party during the marriage.
  • Property stipulated as separate in a prenuptial agreement.
  • Property inherited by one party during the marriage.

When property is disputed

In some cases, there is some dispute about whether a given piece of property is marital or separate. For example, you may encounter some the following issues during a contentious property dispute:

  • Hidden assets: One party has concealed an asset that could be considered be marital property.
  • Commingling of assets: This situation occurs quite often; the assets of one party becomes entangled with the assets of the other party. For example, if a bank account owned by one party only is used to remodel the home, the home is now a commingled asset.
  • Intent: What if one party insists that the home was a gift from one spouse to the other? Is it really a gift or is it marital property?

To help you view your own marital property properly, speak to your divorce attorney.