The parties were married in September of 2003, and have three minor children. Plaintiff filed for divorce in October of 2014. The parties eventually agreed to share joint physical and legal custody of their children and agreed to parenting time.
Evidence presented to the trial court indicated that before the marriage, plaintiff’s grandfather set up a trust to benefit plaintiff that contained, in part, two parcels of land that had been in plaintiff’s family for generations. In 2000, plaintiff’s grandfather died and plaintiff inherited the properties via the trust. In 2007, the trust was closed and two pieces of property were deeded to plaintiff as “a married man.”
The court issued a written opinion in 2016, the court then noted that plaintiff initially received both properties in trust, and that property which is brought into marriage via inheritance as a general rule returns back to the party which received it, so awarded plaintiff both properties and the debt and back taxes associated with them.
On appeal, defendant argued that the trial court should have invaded plaintiff’s separate estate to award her a portion of his two properties, claiming she contributed to their growth and improvement.
When dividing property in a divorce, trial courts must first determine marital and separate assets. Marital property is that which is acquired or earned during the marriage, whereas separate property is that which is obtained or earned before the marriage. Additionally, property received by a married party as an inheritance, but kept separate from marital property, is deemed to be separate property. However, separate property may be invaded when a party significantly assists in acquiring or growing the other party’s assets. Where a spouse contributed to the acquisition, improvement, or accumulation of the separate property, the court may consider the contribution as having a distinct value deserving of compensation.
The plaintiff presented evidence that the first property was unimproved, that there had been no enhancements made to the land since the date of marriage, and that no mortgages on the properties were paid with marital funds. Thus, the parties invested no capital in the property, nor was there any active management of the property during the marriage, so that property remains separate. However, the second property was used by the family as marital property. Thus, it lost its character as separate property and was subject to potential division. Defendant asserted that she helped to maintain the second property, cleared land for horses, maintained the woodstove to heat the house, and, on occasion, paid the taxes, electric bill, and insurance for the house.
Are you facing a divorce in Michigan? Do you have questions about how your assets and your debts will be divided with your soon-to-be ex-spouse? Financial issues are often the biggest concern for individuals and families who are facing divorce. It is important to find a legal team that will guide you through the property division process, negotiating and fighting for the best possible outcome with your divorce.