Is Your House Marital Property If Your Spouse Bought It While You Were Engaged?
In order for a divorce court to make an equitable distribution of a couple’s property (equitable means “fair”), it must first determine which assets are marital property and which are separate property. Only the marital property gets divided, but the court looks at factors like earning potential and separate property when deciding whether and how to award alimony and attorneys’ fees. On the surface, telling the difference between separate and marital property sounds simple; any property you owned before you married your spouse is separate property, and all the assets you acquired during your marriage are marital property. Real life has a way of not being simple, though. If you and your spouse are at odds over whether to classify certain assets as separate or marital property, contact a Tennessee divorce lawyer.
How Separate Assets Become Marital Assets
Even if an asset is titled only in your name, your spouse can argue during your divorce case that it became marital property because you used it as such. For example, money that you inherit during the marriage normally counts as your separate property, but if you used it as marital property, your spouse can claim that it is marital property. Examples of using it as marital property include depositing it in a joint bank account or paying it toward your spouse’s student loans. Likewise, if you owned your house before the marriage but your spouse moved in before or after the wedding, whether the house is separate or marital property is in the details. The best way to protect your separate property from being reclassified as marital property is to sign a prenuptial agreement.
The Case of the Couple Who Bought Their House Right Before They Married
Kristin and Jason Carden married in 2013 after two years of dating. Jason owned a house in Ooltewah before they married, but Kristin did not own real estate. While they were engaged, they shopped for houses together and finally chose a house in Chattanooga that was big enough for their blended family, including Jason’s two sons from his previous marriage and Kristin’s son from her first marriage. Jason titled the Chattanooga house in his name only, however; he alone attended the closing and paid the down payment.
The couple separated after about two years of marriage, mostly because of Jason’s controlling behavior and alleged abuse; he did not allow Kristin to have paid employment, and he even restricted what she and her son were allowed to eat. The court granted her a divorce after she showed evidence of injuries he had caused by hitting her. The main controversy in their divorce case was whether the marital home was marital or separate property. The realtor who had sold them the house testified that Jason had referred to Kristin as his “fiancé” and the house as “our house.” Jason’s first wife, the mother of his sons, also testified that Jason had always meant to treat the home as marital property. For these reasons and because of Kristin’s economic need, the appeals court classified the house as marital property and granted Kristin a share of the proceeds when the house sold.
Contact an Attorney Today for Help
A divorce lawyer can help you clear up ambiguities about marital property and equitable distribution. Contact Knoxville divorce lawyer Patrick L. Looper for help with your case.