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When does separate property become marital property?

On Behalf of | Jun 10, 2024 | Divorce

Property division is one of the most complex aspects of a Pennsylvania divorce. Most people have more property than they realize. Even if you believe that you own little to nothing, chances are, when you start identifying and listing your property for division, you will realize you have more than you thought.

One of the first steps in the property division process is identifying your property as separate property or marital property. Separate property is sometimes called nonmarital property.

Marital versus separate property

Generally, marital property is property that was acquired during your marriage. Separate property is property acquired prior to your marriage or between the date of your separation and the date your divorce becomes final.

Gifts or inheritances obtained during a marriage are also usually considered separate property. Only marital property gets divided in a divorce. This means you typically get to keep your separate property.

Property can include:

  • Real estate
  • Vehicles
  • Personal property
  • Bank accounts
  • Retirement accounts

While this may initially sound straightforward, sometimes separate property is considered marital property in a divorce and must be divided. This happens when the separate property has been mixed with marital property.

An example of separate property becoming marital property

Perhaps you have a bank account titled only in your name that you held prior to your marriage. If the money was not touched or any deposits were made by you only, the account would likely be considered separate property and be yours to keep.

However, if you and your spouse purchased a home and you withdrew money from that bank account to make a down payment on the home, that could convert the bank account to a piece of marital property. The reasoning is that the funds from the account mixed with your home which is marital property.

This is where the process can become complex, particularly if you and your spouse disagree with how a piece of property should be classified.

Division of marital property

Pennsylvania is an equitable distribution state. This means that marital property is divided fairly between spouses. This does not always mean equally. Rather, the court examines various factors to decide the fairest split of marital property.

It is usually best for you and your spouse to negotiate your own terms for property division instead of leaving it up to a court. You are likely to be more satisfied with the outcome because you had a say in the outcome.

However, sometimes resolution is not possible and you must go to court. Whatever your decision, having guidance and advice is crucial to ensure you know your rights and receive a fair outcome.