You may not think much about who legally owns your TV while you’re married, but that answer is essential when divorce becomes a possibility. Property ownership varies from state to state, but we’ve broken it all down for you. Learn the difference between marital and separate property here.
The easiest way to think about marital property is that anything you or your spouse acquired, purchased, or earned while you were married is marital property. This includes your income from the beginning of your marriage until the end of your marriage; furniture; stocks; and even your home. In a divorce, most states would have you split marital property 50-50.
Each spouse can own separate property, and some general rules define this property. For instance, any property you owned before the marriage is separate property. Gifts you personally received before or during the marriage are also considered separate property. If one spouse acquired property during the marriage in their name only and the other spouse never used it, that is separate property, too.
Some states are “community property states,” and those property rules are a little complicated. Generally, spouses equally own their property regardless of whose name it’s in. Also, half of each spouse’s income is the other spouse’s property, and debts apply to both spouses. You’re living in a community property state if you live in Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington, or Wisconsin. If you’re living in Alaska, you can sign an agreement to make specific assets community property.
Every other state is a “common law” state, where determining who owns what is much simpler. If only one name is on a registration document or deed, that person owns that piece of property. If both spouses’ names are on the document, both spouses own half interest unless the document specifies otherwise. When an item does not have a document, the spouse who bought it or got it as a gift owns the item.
Now that you know the difference between marital and separate property, everything may still seem complicated, so reach out to a qualified property division lawyer to make your life easier.