What Happens To Family Heirlooms In A Divorce?
The simple answer to the question of what happens to family heirlooms in a divorce is the same as the answer to most questions in a divorce: it depends.
Factors that will be considered when it comes to family heirlooms include how it was acquired, what kind of assets they are, and if the spouse who was not originally meant to receive it played any part in the increasing value of the item.
Under New Jersey state law, all items that were received by the couple during the marriage are marital property except for gifts and inheritances. The assets that each person had in his and her possession prior to the marriage are not subject to New Jersey's law of equitable distribution just as gifts and inheritances are not. If, however, the items somehow become intertwined or the non-receiving spouse takes an item and increases its value, the situation grows more muddled.
Separating Marital Assets And Protecting Family Heirlooms
If separate property is commingled with marital assets, it will be up to the court to determine the value of the items, when they were acquired prior to marriage and how they became intermingled. In the event that the spouse might have increased the item's value, that too will be analyzed by the court. The court will attempt to separate the items in a fair manner.
Family heirlooms are not difficult to keep from commingling and for the spouses to retain what they feel is their rightful ownership. That will not stop the other spouse from trying to gain possession of the heirlooms. This is more likely in a contentious divorce as the participants try to find methods to exact some form of revenge against the other and will use the court proceedings to try and get items that might have sentimental or financial value as part of the settlement.
A method for each spouse to retain possession of family heirlooms is to make a list of what the items are and how they came into the home. The question that will be asked is why the item should not be viewed as a marital asset. If the individual who provided the heirloom is still living, it might help to have that person write a note describing the gift, to whom it was given and why. Appraising the value of the heirloom can also help to possibly lead a spouse who is trying to gain possession of it to abandon the effort because it's not worth it. Or, if the item has significant value, that could be used as a reason why it should stay with the individual who received it as part of a family estate—the person who had it would not give it to the spouse, but to the person who was a member of the family to whom it belongs.
Speak To A Qualified New Jersey Attorney
If you or a loved one are in the midst of a divorce in Monmouth County, Ocean County or any other area in New Jersey and are concerned about maintaining possession of a prized family heirloom in the divorce, the qualified attorneys at the Law Firm of Villani & DeLuca, P.C. in Point Pleasant Beach, New Jersey can assist you. Family heirlooms can have both monetary and personal value and if there is a dispute as to which spouse should receive the items, an attorney can help you to either come to a resolution or protect the heirlooms in court.