What If My Spouse Wants My Personal Property in the Divorce?

bookshelf inside home

Divorce will keep you up at night. There are so many layers to it. You are suffering the personal loss of your marriage, and you are concerned about the pragmatic ramifications of its dissolution.

Property division is among the biggest of those pragmatic concerns. We often hear horror stories about what someone “lost” in their divorce. This can spark images of someone coming for your assets while you are defenseless.

In a marriage, you may have property you believe is yours alone, only to discover your spouse has part ownership. This article will help clarify which assets belong only to you, and it will give you tips on how to protect that property.

What Property Do You Own in a Marriage?

Generally speaking, there are two types of property in a marriage: marital and separate. Standards can vary from state to state, but for the most part, marital property is anything that was purchased during the marriage. The law assumes that all property is acquired for the benefit of the immediate family, which is why both spouses own all acquired property.

Separate property, on the other hand, belongs to only one spouse. Property is separate when it has nothing to do with the marriage. For example, anything you owned before you were married should remain yours. Also, any gifts or inheritances given by parties outside the marriage belong to only one spouse.

People often assume their treasured belongings are theirs alone. Take, for instance, a spouse with an extensive doll collection they’ve had since childhood. They take the hobby seriously, attending conventions and having all new pieces graded. Technically, any doll they bought while they were married is co-owned by their spouse. It doesn’t matter if the spouse has no interest in the collection. In a divorce, that disinterested spouse could claim entitlement to those pieces.

Arguing for Your Property in a Maryland Divorce

Maryland is an equitable property division state. In essence, the state attempts to give property to the most deserving of the spouses, attempting to make the asset split fair. To keep any property, you must make a case for why you deserve that property. Your two best arguments are primary use and contribution.

Primary Use

Take our above example into consideration. Although your spouse could make a claim for any of your new dolls, you still have a strong argument for why they belong to you. You were the primary user of these dolls. Your spouse never looked at them or dealt with them in any way, so you have a case for sole entitlement.

In a more practical, relatable example, imagine the car you use for your commute. Your spouse rarely drives this car, if ever. You rely on the vehicle for your job and life. Even if your spouse bought the car and made all the payments, you can still claim sole ownership in a divorce.

Contribution to Property

When it comes to property that is jointly used, you need a strong case for your contribution to that property. A clear example of this is the home and a stay-at-home parent. In most cases, this parent manages not only the children but also the house. They keep it clean, and they manage and initiate repairs and remodeling. This parent has a case for homeownership, because of their contribution to the home’s value and upkeep.

Community Property Model

Entitlement in community property states works much the same way. People can argue for their rightful ownership using the same methods outlined above. However, community property states endeavor to give each spouse 50% of the overall assets. Therefore, keeping property requires giving up something in return. A spouse must pay for half the value of that property, trade physical property up to a 50% value, or even sell the property to meet the system’s demands.

Commingled Property

There is one more category of property outside the traditional marital vs. separate model. This is called commingled property. Essentially, separate property can get tied up into marital property based on a spouse’s involvement.

Imagine you inherit a house from your deceased uncle. By traditional standards, this property is separate, belonging to you alone. However, you begin using that property for the whole family. You vacation there with the spouse and kids. As time goes by, your spouse starts making contributions to the home. They work on maintenance and beautification projects, increasing the home’s worth and desirability.

When your spouse makes contributions to property, even if that property is separate, they can lay claim to at least a portion of that property. This is how separate property can become commingled.

If you’re concerned about the property you might lose in a divorce, contact us today for a free consultation. We may be able to review your case and offer you guidance on your next steps. Call us not at (410) 593-0040. You can also reach us online.

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