Does Your House Also Belong to Your Spouse?

You may have purchased your home before you ever met your soon-to-be ex-spouse. But in the midst of your legal proceedings and divorce settlement, you are now beginning to wonder if your spouse may be able to claim that property as a marital asset. Do you know if your spouse actually co-owns that house?

Regarding a home that is only listed in the name of one spouse, the division of equity can be tricky. We are going to take a closer look at some of the details you might need to know during your divorce proceedings.

Did You Make a Wise Investment?

When the economy is doing well, it is normal to see an increase in the value of a home—even if you do not change a single thing about it. If marital funds did not contribute to the monthly payments, upkeep, and maintenance (or anything else regarding your home), then the home remains separate property, rather than marital property.

The purchase of a home that occurred prior to the beginning of your marriage typically remains your individual property. Therefore, it is not usually divisible during a divorce settlement. However, in a few situations, you might find your separate property transforming into marital property.

Did You Give the House to your Spouse?

State rules apply in this situation, but it is possible that the property could be transmuted (i.e., converted) into marital property—even without a dime of marital funds going toward the upkeep, mortgage, or renovation of the home.

For example, perhaps you purchased a fixer-upper on your own, but your new spouse hung new sheetrock, installed a new roof, and fixed all of the leaky plumbing. If so, this sweat equity may entitle them to a share of the home; this is particularly true in cases when their work directly resulted in a higher resale value of the home.

You may also find the property transmuted if it was used as the marital home for a number of years. In this case, the judge may rule this way: Even though the home was once separate property, both spouses have a claim to the equity it has acquired—because of the length of time they both resided in the property. Courts may view it as one spouse “gifting” the home to the other.

In situations when marital funds were directly used to maintain the home (whether that means covering the mortgage, or just paying the electricity bill), it is very likely to become martial property. Both spouses would have a share in the equity of the home because marital funds were used to keep the property running, and both spouses benefited from it.

How Much Can Your Spouse Claim?

If it was once considered separate property, the amount that your spouse can claim from a home will depend on state laws. However, they are not typically entitled to the full value of the house. Instead, they can benefit from the equity in the home (i.e., the current value of the home that exceeds the initial value on the beginning of the marriage).

The division of equity in the home will remain up to the court. It could depend on the amount of money contributed to the home, as well as the amount of labor or renovations that increased its value. The calculation may not be as simple as a 50/50 split in the equity of the home.

If you were banking on the fact that the home you purchased would remain your separate property, you might need to think again. In reality, your spouse may have a legitimate claim to some of the value that the property has accrued over the years of your union.

You may want to discuss your marital contributions to the property with a Divorce Financial Analyst. Then you can determine how the property will be divided during your divorce.

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