The courts of New York follow equitable distribution laws when it comes to dividing up marital property. Past posts on this blog have discussed how these laws seek to preserve fairness in the division and assignment of marital assets. However, marital property is only one kind of property that must be addressed when a marriage ends. Non-marital property must also be identified and, in some cases, may be disputed when couples elect to pursue a divorce.
Non-marital property is property that is owned by only one of the partners to a marriage. There are different ways that a person may retain non-marital property despite their formalized legal union to their spouse. For example, if a person owned an item of property before they were married and never converted it to marital property, then that item may retain its non-marital status.
Another way that a person may acquire non-marital property is through inheritance. In some cases, a bequest may be given to both a person and their spouse, but if it is only made to one of the parties, then that party may retain the property as a non-marital asset. As with property owned before marriage, inheritance-based non-marital property must be kept separate and apart from marital property to avoid converting it to marital property.
As mentioned above, non-marital property can become marital property if it is used for marital purposes, if a spouse's name is added to the property's documentation of ownership, or through a number of different actions. It is important for a person to properly identify and retain their non-marital property during a divorce. The failure of a person to protect their non-marital assets may result in those assets being divided through the equitable distribution process.