People often think of personal property items as “his,” “hers,” and “ours.” Absent a written agreement, however, the law presumes that almost everything that is purchased during the course of the marriage is “marital” and therefore each person has a right to half of its value. Also, although items purchased before the marriage are typically “separate” property, the appreciation of those items during the course of the marriage is considered “marital.”
Parties in divorce cases often think of property as being separate because one spouse purchased it during the marriage or because one spouse has a greater attachment to the property. For example, Husband and Wife are married for ten years, and about six years into the marriage, the Husband takes an interest in collecting stamps. Husband uses money from his own paychecks to purchase numerous stamps over the course of four years. The husband spends thousands of dollars on his prized stamp collection, to which the wife has no attachment. Furthermore, the wife does not know the details of what is included in the collection. Many people will think of the stamps as the Husband’s separate property, in part because he used funds from “his” paycheck and the stamps are his personal hobby. Unless an unusual exception applies, however, the assumption that the stamps are the Husband’s separate property is wrong. The stamps are presumed to be a marital asset and their value belongs equally to the parties.
In short, the classification of property as either “marital” or “separate” is often more complicated than many people think. It is always a good idea to have a discussion with your attorney about how items will be classified for the purposes of valuation and distribution in a marriage.