How Does Divorce Affect Property Ownership?

Written by paul bright
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Many marriages end in divorce. Regardless of when a divorce occurs, couples usually acquire property together throughout the marriage; property that must go to the man, the wife, both or neither. In most divorces, the ownership of property is affected.

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Community Property

When a divorce happens, you would think that everything would be split down the middle, be it objects or the bills that pay for those objects. That is true, but not in every state. The states that see it this way have what is called community property law. That means that during the divorce, a decree is drafted where both parties take ownership of certain items, excluding inheritances or gifts. If a determination cannot be made on who should outright own a piece of property (like a car bought in both names), then sometimes the property goes under joint ownership. There are several states that abide by this law to include Puerto Rico, Washington, Wisconsin and Arizona. California's community property law states that a 50/50 split is mandated by law. In Texas, the divide can by done by value of the property versus the number of pieces. Someone could end up with more property that has less value.

Separate Property

Most states follow another set of rules. They usually separate the property by decree, but whoever owned specific property before the marriage would reclaim that property. For example, if the husband owned the home before he married his girlfriend, she wouldn't automatically get half-ownership of the home if they divorced.

Criss-Crossed Lines and Separation Dates

Whether community or separate property, divorce property issues aren't black and white. What if you are in a separate state and the wife owned the home but the husband made payments from his own separate money before they got married? An agreement would have to be made in writing between the parties, else a judge or arbitrator decides.

Regardless of what state you live in, the date of separation is very important when dividing up assets and property. If both parties agree that the marriage is essentially over and they set a separation date, anything assets acquired after that date by either party member becomes separate property. In other words, if the wife hits the lottery jackpot two weeks after the separation, the husband could be out of luck. As some would say, maybe it's better to try and work things out before calling it quits.

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