When parties file for divorce, courts consider the current financial situation of both husband and wife, including whether they are working, and any assets that they may have. This is because, if a divorce is granted, courts will attempt to divide the assets of the marriage (known as the marital estate) between the two parties in an effort to ensure that both can continue to life the lifestyle they are accustomed to after the divorce becomes final. This process is known as equitable division of the marital assets.
Generally, if one party has received an inheritance before the beginning of the marriage, it is not counted as marital property and therefore not subject to equitable division. It is possible, however, for a party’s previous inheritance to become part of the marital estate in certain circumstances. If this happens, a former husband or wife may be awarded part or all of one person’s inheritance.
There are two ways an individual inheritance can become part of the marital estate. One way is if the assets are co-mingled or mixed with marital property. A common way this happens is if the parties create a joint checking account after they are married. Because the joint checking account is created after the marriage, it is considered marital property. Therefore, if an individual chooses to deposit some or all of their inheritance into the joint account, the funds become co-mingled. This mingling or mixing cannot be undone: even if a party could show the precise amount of the inheritance that was deposited, any funds in the joint checking account at the time of divorce are subject to equitable division.
The second way an inheritance can become part of the marital estate is if some or all of the funds are used for the benefit of the family. Family here includes both the spouse and any children of the marriage. One example of using funds for the benefit of the family is making car payments from the inheritance account; using the account for educational expenses, such as tuition, books, or other fees; using inheritance funds to finance vacations or trips for the family. If a court finds this use is so common as to create an expectation of the family that the funds are for their benefit, the inheritance can become subject to equitable division.
The attorneys at Parkman White, LLP are very familiar with how courts calculate the size of the marital estate, equitable division, and other procedures that are part of filing for divorce. If you are going through a divorce now, or simply wish to discuss your options with experts in family law, please call the divorce attorneys at Parkman White, LLP. With over 100 years of combined experience, our seasoned divorce lawyers have the skills and expertise to guide you through the process and obtain the results you desire. Call today for a consultation, and let us put our experience to work for you.