In any marriage, spouses accumulate property. When a couple decides to divorce, property becomes one of their biggest concerns. It can be difficult and stressful to determine who gets what, even when the divorce is amicable.
Most states have three general categories of property in a marriage. Two are officially recognized, and one is vaguer and harder to define.
In this article, we will explore the three categories of property within a marriage. You can use this information to help you plan and negotiate asset division if the need arises.
The three categories of property within marriage are the following:
- Marital Property
- Separate Property
- Co-Mingled Property
What is Marital Property?
Each spouse owns 50% of the marital property, also called community property. These are assets that come from within the marriage.
Community property includes:
- Gifts from one spouse to another.
- Anything that either spouse purchased during the marriage.
Essentially, the law assumes that while you are married, all your property is a part of that marriage. If you buy yourself a new pair of pants, your spouse has 50% ownership of those pants.
Ways to Divide Marital Property
When a divorce goes to trial, the court must divide the marital property. Depending on the state, there are two different ways to do this:equitable property division and equal property division.
Equitable Property Division
Most states, including Pennsylvania, use this model. Under this system, the court determines which spouse is entitled to property. It is not concerned with who paid for it.
For instance, imagine one spouse buying the other a car. The other spouse uses this car for work, errands, and so on. They also keep up with cleaning, maintenance, gas, and so on. For all purposes, it is “their” car. Even if they never contributed to a car payment, they will probably keep this car after the divorce.
Equal Property Division
Only nine states currently use this system. It is designed to give each spouse 50% of the overall marital assets.
Spouses must claim entitlement to keep physical assets, but when they do, they owe the other spouse 50% of the asset’s value. They can directly pay the other spouse, trade away more physical property, or sell off the asset and split the profits.
What is Separate Property?
Separate property comes from outside the marriage, and it belongs to just one person.
This property includes:
- Property you inherit.
- Property you owned before the marriage.
- Gifts from people other than your spouse.
The law assumes that this property does not involve your spouse, so it, therefore, belongs to you alone. In a divorce, you should be able to keep your separate property with no resistance.
What is Co-mingled Property?
Co-mingled property starts as separate property, but circumstances allow another spouse to make a partial claim to it.
Imagine you inherit a plot of empty land. Legally, this is separate property, belonging only to you. However, you and your spouse decide to build a house on this land and use it as a vacation home. Because they helped contribute to this property, they now have a legally sound reason to claim partial ownership.
Untangling co-mingled property is complicated. It may take long hours for attorneys to dig through the law, deciding who rightfully owns this property. In many cases, it may be necessary to strike deals to satisfy both spouses. For instance, one may owe the other a percentage of the property to keep it, or, if the property makes money, the spouses may share a percentage of the profits.
Alternatively, you may also be able to claim entitlement to co-mingled property. You can use some of the same methods outlined above. Your best strategy, however, would be to prove that the other spouse somehow inhibited, damaged, or sabotaged the property.
Our firm is here to help people going through a divorce. We have the skills to help divide property fairly, and we can help you protect property that is rightfully yours. For a free consultation, reach out to us online or call us at (412) 281-1988.