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Marital Property

Written By
Paul Tracy
Updated October 16, 2020

What is Marital Property?

Marital property is property owned by a married couple.

How Does Marital Property Work?

Let's say John Doe and Jane Smith get married. On the day of the wedding, John owns a 1988 Camaro, 10 sets of speakers, and his clothes. Jane owns a house, a Lexus, a house full of furniture and $200,000 in savings and investments. They buy a timeshare in Aruba together after the wedding.

Depending on the state in which John and Jane wed, live or divorce, everything they own while married might be considered marital property. That is, what is John's before the wedding is now Jane's too; what is Jane's before the wedding is now John's too.

Accordingly, when Jane decides to dump John, she may have to give a portion of her home equity, furniture, and savings and investments to John even though she purchased those before she was married. John's Camaro, speakers, and even his clothes may technically be half his. The timeshare must also be divided. In some states, only the property that John and Jane acquire during the marriage has to be split, and in some jurisdictions, the court can decide who gets what and whether the split is 50/50.

Why Does Marital Property Matter?

Every state has its own laws regarding what constitutes marital property and how it is divided in the event of a divorce. In many cases, "equitable" does not mean "50/50." In the earliest days of marriage, the wife's property became the husband's property upon marriage; only when the husband died would a wife receive property. Those times have certainly changed.

It is important to note that some courts do not consider certain kinds of property marital property even if it is acquired during the marriage. These special exceptions often apply to property that a person inherits, property that a person obtains in exchange for something he or she acquired before the marriage, or property listed in a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement.

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