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Understanding separate and marital property in family law

On Behalf of | Jan 4, 2023 | Family Law

Separating couples in Tennessee must navigate the complexities of property division. Understanding the difference between separate and marital assets can simplify this task.

What is marital property?

In family law, marital property includes any asset that the couple received during their marriage up to the date of the final divorce decree. As the couple purchases homes, automobiles and other assets, they all fall under joint ownership.

There are a few exceptions where property given to one spouse remains separate. The spouse claiming the exception must produce evidence of the unique situation. Some exceptions include:

  • Gifts and bequests
  • Court judgments awarded to a single spouse
  • Appreciation of premarital property

Separate property and commingling

The court considers property owned before the marriage to continue under single ownership during divorce proceedings. Some high-asset individuals will use a prenuptial agreement to clarify this property in case of a divorce at a later point.

In a divorce court, determining property ownership can become more complicated if there is evidence of commingling. A spouse contributing to the appreciation or payment of a separate asset may qualify for joint ownership.

Marital homes are often considered commingled property. While one spouse may have purchased the residence before the marriage, it falls under joint ownership if the other spouse contributes to its value. Such contributions include:

  • Contributing to mortgage payments
  • Paying for improvements
  • Actively maintaining the property.

If the court deems that a separate property has become commingled, it will be part of the property division in the divorce.

Determining an equitable distribution

Tennessee is an equitable distribution state. In this model, the court determines a fair split of marital assets rather than an equal split. A clear understanding of separate and marital property will help couples work toward a fair resolution.