New Jersey's laws on equitable distribution requires couples to divide all marital assets and liabilities in the fairest way possible. While some properties can be divided equally, other properties, such as real estate and retirement accounts require careful calculation and cooperative negotiation. One consolation you have during a divorce is that your separate properties, i.e., properties that you acquired prior to your marriage are not subject to the laws of equitable distribution. In addition, special properties such as inheritances and gifts from third parties are also considered separate properties, even if they were acquired during the marriage.
It seems pretty simple in that case; the beach house you bought on your own five years before you got married is yours free and clear, right? Unfortunately, it's not always that simple. Most married couples work together to maintain and pay for major properties like houses, even if it's only in one person's name. Thus, if your spouse helped you out with the mortgage or property taxes, or helped you with renovations that increased the house's value, he or she may be entitled to some level of compensation, or a share of the increase in value. There are also complications involving inheritance funds that are commingled with marital funds. Let's say that a relative left you a sum of money in his will. If you deposited those funds into an account owned jointly by you and your spouse, you have commingled, or combined your separate funds with your marital funds.
The issue of commingled inheritances is especially complex, because it would appear that you voluntarily "gifted" or "transferred" the funds to your spouse by placing it in a joint account. This doesn't mean that the account should be split 50/50, but you will have to show substantial evidence in order to get back most or all of your inheritance. What types of evidence you will need to show depends on your circumstances, which you should discuss with an experienced divorce attorney. In addition to the will and bank statements, you may need to include receipts, check copies, and any written statements between you and your spouse referencing how the money is to be used. You may also want to show evidence of how both of you paid for things during your marriage. If you can show that most or all of the money for common expenses such as rent, utilities, groceries, etc., came out of accounts other than the account in question, it could reinforce your claim that the inheritance funds were meant to be separate.
No matter what types of properties you have in your marriage, it's important to speak to an attorney about your rights and options. Even if you don't anticipate a messy court battle, dividing your assets fairly requires extensive knowledge about the state's divorce statutes, as well as financial matters and tax liabilities. The attorneys of Villani & DeLuca, P.C. will be happy to advise you on these issues during a free initial consultation.