Many divorcing couples in Michigan don’t understand how assets are divided in the event of a divorce. And who can blame them? It can be a bit complicated, and because we see so much conflicting information in movies and TV shows (many of which are based on laws in other states, or simply on the screen writer’s imagination) people aren’t sure what property division law applies to them. And when it comes to the issue of separate versus marital property, the issue can get really murky. So we’d like to shed a little light on it for you.
Marital property versus separately owned assets – What’s the difference?
Marital property is what you and your spouse own together, and what gets divided up when you get divorced. This usually includes things acquired during the marriage such as your home, your vehicles, your investments and retirement accounts, and any items you own (big or small) from the furniture right down to the jewelry.
Under Michigan law, anything a couple purchases or invests in while they’re married would usually be considered marital property. So a co-owned business in Charlotte, cars you bought together in Dewitt, or a home you purchased after marriage in Holt would all be marital property. We have to caution you though. There are exceptions to most rules in the world of divorce law here in Michigan.
Things your spouse owned independently before the marriage, like trust funds, businesses, or vehicles are usually theirs to keep because they owned them before getting hitched. However, there are certain situations where this doesn’t apply – where you WOULD actually be able to claim part ownership in something that your spouse owned independently before getting married to you. Why? That’s what we’d like to talk about here.
Did you contribute in any way to that property along the way?
Let’s say your spouse owned a business in Lansing or Okemos before you two got married. But over the course of your marriage, you worked in their store a number of times when employees called in sick. Or you kept the books for them because they’re pretty terrible at math. Technically you may now have a claim to part of that business because you contributed to its operation and growth during the marriage. That might make it marital property in the eyes of the court.
Michigan’s standard for property separation was originally set by a 1997 case, Reeves v. Reeves. The case defined the special circumstances for property division using two tests: the ‘contribution test’ and the ‘insufficiency test’, both of which were based on Michigan divorce statutes. The tests allowed for a person to share in their spouse’s ‘separate’ property if they “contributed to the acquisition, improvement, or accumulation of the property.” So you see, just because it’s exclusively theirs on paper, doesn’t mean you don’t have a legal claim to some of that asset.
To complicate things even more, sometimes premarital assets can be subject to division during a divorce case. That’s the exception rather than the rule but an experienced family law attorney will be able to tell you whether this applies to your particular case.
Getting what is legally yours when you get divorced can be a tricky arrangement.
Divorces tend to get acrimonious, especially when there’s a decent amount of money or items of value on the line. And because every divorce case is different, requiring its own specific analysis of the finances and all the other factors that affect who gets what, it’s critical that you have experienced lawyers who understand how Michigan divorce and property law work. That’s where we come in.
Here at The Kronzek Firm, our premier Michigan divorce lawyers can be reached around the clock at 517 886 1000. We are available for emergency meetings on short notice for crisis situations, and would be happy to schedule a free initial Zoom or phone consultation to help you decide if you’d like to move forward with your divorce. If you live in Ingham, Eaton, Jackson, Ionia or Clinton counties, and you’re ready to move on to a brighter future, contact us now. Our top ranked divorce lawyers have represented thousands of clients over the past 26 years. We can help you too.