When two people get married, they rarely worry about who owns what. “What is mine is yours,” is the common refrain and vow married couples exchange.
The ownership of property often is not of major concern – unless couples face a divorce. Then, the question of ownership becomes a significant issue. One of the most common questions surrounding this issue is: does the name on the property title determine who keeps the property?
Does the name on the title matter?
The answer to this common question often depends on the particular details of the situation. North Carolina law outlines the rules of property division, which determine what classifies assets as separate or marital property.
By these rules a home purchased before the marriage with one spouse’s name on the title would generally be separate property. However, in real life – much less in divorce – things are rarely that simple.
For example, consider these two scenarios of a family home:
- Purchased during the marriage: If a couple purchased a house during their marriage, but put only one spouse’s name on the title, the house still qualifies as marital property. This is due to the fact that the couple acquired the house during their marriage.
- Purchased before marriage: Even if one spouse purchased the home before marriage and their name is the only one on the title, it could still be marital property in some cases. This is common since both spouses often invest marital funds to update or remodel the home – which makes it marital property.
Generally, North Carolina courts will consider who purchased the home and when, but they will also consider what both spouses contributed to the home throughout the marriage. In short, the name on the title is not the deciding factor in the division of assets.
So, if not the title, what exactly makes something separate property?
According to the law, separate property includes:
- Anything owned before the marriage, such as a vehicle
- Anything intended for one spouse alone, such as an inheritance or a gift
There are still exceptions. As we discussed in a previous blog post, keeping separate bank accounts does not necessarily mean the funds in them that are acquired during the marriage are separate assets.
Property ownership and the division of that property in a divorce can often be a complex matter. It is beneficial for individuals to seek legal counsel to understand one’s rights and interests during this process, especially when it comes to the family home.