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What is pre-marital property?

Pre-marital property comes up often in divorce cases, but what is it? Pre-marital property are assets that are purchased or received BEFORE you are married. Pre-marital assets remain separate property of the person that owned it at the time of the marriage in a divorce proceeding. Let's look at some examples:

Example 1: Ralph purchases some gold coins on December 1, 2020. Ralph marries Jessica on December 10, 2020. Jessica files for divorce on January 1, 2022. The gold coins are pre-marital property and Jessica will not be able to claim them in the divorce proceeding, the coins will remain the property of Ralph even after his divorce.

Example 2: Ralph starts working at ABC Corporation and starts contributing to a 401k account. By the time Ralph marries Jessica, he has $10,000 in his 401k account. When Ralph divorces Jessica, he has $50,000 in his 401k account. The original $10,000 is pre-marital and remains the property of Ralph, so the marital portion is $40,000. The only amount that can be divided in the divorce is the marital portion of $40,000.

Example 3: Ralph buys a house before he gets married. When he gets married, he owes $50,000 on his mortgage and the house is worth $100,000, so there is $50,000 in equity. He marries Jessica, she moves in and they continue paying on the mortgage. When Jessica files for divorce, there is only $20,000 owed on the mortgage and the house has increased in value to $150,000, so the current equity in the house is $130,000. Ralph maintains his pre-marital equity in the house of $50,000 (as long as he can prove the amount owed on the mortgage and value of the house at the time of the marriage). So the marital interest in the house is the current equity of $130,000 minus Ralph's pre-marital equity of $50,000, for $80,000 of equity that is considered "marital" and will be divided in the divorce. HOWEVER, if Ralph put Jessica's name on the deed to the house, he has commingled the property and destroyed his pre-marital interest and the WHOLE amount of equity would then be marital.

Exceptions to pre-marital property:

  • If you commingle pre-marital property, like putting your spouse's name on a pre-marital house or pre-marital bank account, this property becomes marital property.

  • If any payments on an asset, like a house, are paid DURING the marriage, the marital portion (the amount of equity built up DURING the marriage) becomes marital property (see example 3 above).

  • If a spouse contributes maintenance, property taxes or labor during the marriage that increases the value of an asset, that asset could also become marital.

Always discuss marital asset issues with your attorney while going through a divorce. Attorney Allison Greenlee Korr handles family cases in the counties of Kalamazoo, Calhoun, Van Buren and St. Joseph, call today for a consultation. 269-381-4471


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