Can My Ex-Partner Take a House I Brought into the Marriage?
For many people, when they start out in married or partnered life together, the last thing on their minds is ‘who owns what’. We tend to enter these long-term relationships feeling confident that everything will be shared – affection, a home and experiences included.
Yet when a relationship ends and a couple needs to look at the financial situation, often a more ‘mine’ and ‘yours’ feeling can develop. The courts use a step-by-step process when sorting out the details of a marital property division. Many factors are taken into consideration, with one of those being the assets that were brought into the relationship.
Assessing net assets
The first thing that courts will do when dealing with property division is to take a careful look at existing assets. This will include both items brought into the marriage and those that have accumulated during the course of the relationship. It is not unusual for one party to bring in a piece of land or a simple dwelling, which the couple then works on to improve across the years. Other items that might be brought along to the union might be vehicles, furniture, shares and jewellery.
Having established the net asset pool – which will be all assets minus debts and other liabilities – courts consider the relative contributions made by the parties across the life of the marriage. Contributions might be financial or non-financial and can include elements such as salary, dividends, business involvement, care for any children of the marriage, plus homemaking efforts.
In some ways, the court looks at the assets at the start of the marriage, compared to those existing at the end, and asks “how did this couple get to this point and what contributions –if any – did each person make?” If feelings about the separation are still strongly negative, it can sometimes be hard to give any credit to the contributions supposedly made by an ex. It can certainly help to communicate your difficult feelings to a trusted professional.
Down the middle?
For people who bring significant items into the marriage, it can be quite a challenge to imagine how certain items are not simply ‘mine’ post-separation. This is particularly so when the item is large and tangible, such as a house, holiday unit, block of land or boat. And it might well be the case that a property division will be made that enables you to retain the asset whole and undivided.
For example, you might have brought a house into the marriage that is now worth $400,000, there is a city unit now also worth $400,000, and the court has ordered a 50/50% property division of your $800,000 asset pool. In this simple case, it might well be practical for you to exit the relationship with the house you brought in.
Look to the future
Yet life is hardly ever this simple! As well as looking at net assets and contributions, the courts will also need to examine future needs. This tends to include an analysis of the earning capacity of each partner, as well as parenting or other carer responsibilities. Sometimes the percentage of the division will alter if it is established that one partner has minimal future earning capacity. Further, courts will take into account the overall fairness of the property division before any order is made.
Finding a fair division
In the case of a house that was brought into the marriage, there are a number of ways that a division of net assets could pan out. Suppose a significant property was brought to a short marriage by one partner, with the other partner contributing little to the union. In some cases it might be possible to argue that the house should go back to the original partner. Each case however is unique. It is very important to provide your family lawyer with all relevant details around the asset pool, the nature/duration of the relationship and any other factors likely to impact upon the court’s view of your situation in relation to the house.
In name alone?
One thing to keep in mind is that the names on title deeds might not have a great deal of influence in a family law property division. Even if your ex-spouse’s name was never added to the house documents, the court might nevertheless consider that it is a shared asset of the marriage. Your dedicated family lawyer will be able to assist you in establishing the assets, liabilities, future needs, and estimated property division applicable to your circumstances.
It can sometimes seem unfair that an asset that you personally brought into the marriage might eventually need to be divided with your ex. As relationships end however, the court strives to make sure that all affected adults and children are evenly provided for, both now and into the future. If feelings are raw and the financial complexities are a little overwhelming, our family law experts can help you to navigate this challenging time.