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What Constitutes Property?

By Carol Ann Wilson

Property includes such assets as the family home, rental property, cars, and art or antique collections. It can also include bank accounts, mutual funds, stocks and bonds, cash value life insurance, IRAs, and retirement plans. And yes, career assets and PHTs or PWTs (putting husband/wife through school). As you can see, there is virtually no limit to what can be considered property.

Laws vary from state to state on how to divide it. Property issues account for a large number of appeals! Although there are exceptions to just about everything, when it comes to property, it is usually divided into two categories:
separate and marital.

In general, separate property, property that will not be divided, includes what a person brings into the marriage, inherits during the marriage, or receives as a gift during the marriage.

On the other hand, marital property, which can be divided, is everything acquired during the marriage no matter whose name itís in. In some states, marital property also includes the increase in value of separate property.

Do you know what kind of state you live in and what rules of property division your state follows? There are three different types of states:
community property, equitable distribution, and equal distribution. The differences are subtle. Once you know how your state handles property division, you can decide which property is yours or your spouseís and which is owned jointly. The great majority of states have detailed statutes that categorize property.

In community property states (Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin), property that is not subject to division of the court - your and your spouseís separate property - is the first to be identified. The court then may decide on how marital, or community property is divided. Again, separate property is owned before the marriage, or obtained by gift or inheritance during it. Everything else is community property and is subject to equal division. Some community property states require that all property acquired during the marriage be split equally, while others divvy up assets in the same way as equitable distribution states do.

The equitable distribution states usually agree that your marital property be divided equitably, or fairly, between you and your spouse. In equal distribution states, the property is divided - you guessed it - equally.

Source: The Dollars and Sense of Divorce, © 1998, by Carol Ann Wilson, Judith Briles, & Edwin Schilling

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