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How can separate property become marital property?

The assets you bring into a marriage are considered "separate property" under the law. Anything that you and your spouse purchase together or assets that are used for the benefit of the marriage are "marital property."

If a couple divorces, the spouses don't have to worry about how to divide separate property as they do marital property. They can walk away with anything they brought into the marriage or attained in their name only after the marriage -- unless it becomes "commingled."

Most couples commingle at least some of their funds during their marriage to purchase and furnish their home, take vacations, care for their children and numerous other purposes. However, too often, they inadvertently commingle assets they intended to remain separate property without realizing it. That makes these assets marital property. Both spouses have a claim to it under Florida's equitable distribution laws, even if it originally belonged to just one spouse.

Following are a few examples of how separate assets can become commingled -- often without either spouse realizing it. One spouse:

  • Has a bank account in only his or her name, but the other spouse makes deposits to it.
  • Owns his or her own home when the couple marries, and the other spouse contributes funds for its maintenance, renovation or to pay the mortgage.
  • Deposits money he or she inherited into a joint account.

Debts can be inadvertently commingled as well. For example, perhaps your parents lend you some money. If you spend that money on something that both you and your spouse use or benefit from, such as a boat or to pay off a joint credit card, both of you could be held responsible for repaying that loan if you divorce.

A prenuptial agreement can help ensure that you and your spouse are on the same page regarding what is to remain separate property throughout the marriage. However, it's still necessary to understand what actions can turn that separate property into marital property that you may have to divide in a divorce.

Source: LiveAbout, "Divorce and Commingled Funds," Cathy Meyer, accessed Dec. 21, 2017

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