When a marriage comes to an end, the division of property can take center stage – but you can’t really talk about what there is to divide or how to do it until you fully understand what is (and isn’t) a marital asset.
The longer you’ve been married, the harder it can be to figure out the difference between “yours, mine and ours” when it comes to what you and your spouse own, but that’s the first step in this process.
Anything acquired after you said “I do” can be a marital asset
Broadly speaking, all property and possessions acquired by either spouse during a marriage are considered part of the marital estate. Subject to a few exceptions, those assets all have to be divided in a divorce, so that can include:
- Real estate, such as the family home or investment properties
- Joint bank accounts, individual accounts funded with marital income, and investments like stocks and bonds
- Funds saved in retirement accounts during the marriage, such as 401(k)s and IRAs, regardless of whose name is on them (even if the retirement account was started prior to marriage)
- Cars, motorcycles, utility vehicles, watercraft and other vehicles
- Business interests, even if the other spouse wasn’t directly involved in its operations
- Household items, furniture, electronics, jewelry and other personal belongings
- Hobby items, collections and intellectual property created by either spouse during the marriage
If you had the foresight to get a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement, that agreement can carve out some important exceptions, however. In addition, personal gifts that were made to only one spouse are usually that spouse’s separate property, as are inheritances and the proceeds from a personal injury claim.
Even so, separate assets can become marital assets if they are commingled with marital property. For example, if you inherited money from your parents and bought a home with it that was titled in both your names, that would likely be considered marital property. Even if you titled the home in just your name, your spouse might have a claim to a share of any equity that has accrued during your marriage if you used marital funds to do renovations, pay for property taxes or make repairs.
Because this can be a complicated issue – and it’s a foundation for the negotiations to come – it can help to seek legal guidance that’s tailored to your unique divorce-related situation.