Filing for divorce may be the best decision for you, but it is never an easy one to make. If either you or your spouse received an inheritance, that adds another layer of complexity to the situation. Most people never put much thought into these things until they go through a divorce. In a difficult situation like divorce, you must understand your rights and should get legal advice from an experienced divorce attorney.
Is an inheritance considered separate or marital property?
The general answer is no, inheritance money isn't split in a divorce. When a couple divorces, their property is classified into two categories: separate property, which stays with the spouse who owns it, and marital property, which is divided between the spouses. Usually, separate property is any property you or your spouse received before the marriage, while marital property is all property obtained during the marriage. However, inheritances received by one spouse are an exception: they are considered separate property, even if you inherited that property while you were married.
That said, just because inheritances start as separate property doesn't mean they will stay separate property.
How separate property can turn into marital property
After inheriting separate property, it is possible to convert it into marital property. This happens when separate property is mixed with marital property, also known as commingling. It is possible to commingle unintentionally. For example, if a family member passes away and you inherit money from their will, it is your separate property. But if you put it into a joint account with your spouse's money, even if you didn't intend it to be marital property, it may now be considered marital property.
Another possibility is to change the nature of the separate property, also known as transmutation. For example, if you inherit property such as a house and then put your spouse's name on the title, it's now considered marital property.
It is important to understand that this only works one way. Martial property cannot convert to separate property.
What happens to inheritance once the divorce is finalized?
If an inheritance is found to be separate property, then it remains with the spouse who inherited it, no matter how the rest of your property is divided. If it's found to be marital property, it will be subject to equitable distribution, just like the rest of your property. This isn't always clear-cut, so having a divorce attorney advocate for your interests is critical.
Keep in mind that even if the inheritance itself is separate property, the divorce court may still consider it when assessing your overall financial situation to determine an equitable distribution of the rest of the property or if you have to pay child support or alimony.
Why is it important to hire a divorce lawyer?
Emotions and tensions run high when going through a divorce. Adding inheritance to the equation can make things even harder, but an experienced attorney can make it easier. A divorce attorney can advise you on what to do with your inheritance and look out for your best interests.
If you are considering a divorce in West Virginia, contact the divorce lawyers at Klie Law Offices. You can call us and schedule a free initial consultation.