To non-lawyers, whether a piece of property is considered “marital” or “nonmarital” property probably seems inconsequential. How much difference can it make for something to be called one, and not the other?
The Importance of Non-Marital and Marital Property Categories
Lawyers, and especially family law lawyers, however understand that these labels carry huge significance in a divorce proceeding. How a piece of property, like a house, car, or even something smaller, like a pool table or work bench, is labeled determines whether it has to be split between you and your spouse, or whether the original owner can keep it. If the marital property label gets attached to the property, then it will have to be split through the process of equitable distribution. If the property is deemed nonmarital, though, it will stay with the original owner.
Proving That Property is Nonmarital
If you want to claim that a particular piece of property is nonmarital – and therefore should not be split through equitable distribution – then you will have to back that claim up if you want the court to accept it and apply the non-marital label: Generally, courts presume that the property of your and your spouse is marital, and leave it up to you to prove otherwise.
There are several ways of proving that property is nonmarital. If property was obtained before the marriage, protected by a prenuptial agreement, or was received as a gift or inheritance, then it will be considered nonmarital property. However, things can become even more complex because property can change from one category to another through the process of transmutation.
Transmutation Can Change the Nature of a Piece of Property
A piece of property can undergo the process of transmutation during a marriage, changing it from non-marital property into marital property. This can be a harsh surprise for the original owner of the property, who now has to split it with his or her spouse in a divorce instead of keeping it all to themselves.
An Example of Transmutation: Conits v. Conits
An example of transmutation in action comes from a recent case that was heard in the South Carolina Court of Appeals, Conits v. Conits.
There, the wife in a divorce successfully claimed that properties in Simpsonville and Travelers Rest had transmuted from nonmarital property into marital property, giving her a claim to them through equitable distribution. Even though the husband had owned them before they had gotten married, he refinanced both properties to help pay for family expenses, like college tuition for their children, and to pay for new, marital, property.
Additionally, the property in Travelers Rest had had debt owed on the property at the time of the marriage. This debt was extinguished with income earned by the husband during the marriage – a textbook example of marital property – making the Travelers Rest property transmute from nonmarital into marital property.
Contact a South Carolina Divorce Attorney
Finding out that property has transmuted over the course of a marriage can be a shock to some. At the Elliott Frazier Law Firm, LLC, we understand what to look for to protect your interests and make sure that you get the property from a divorce that you deserve. Contact us today.
Angela Elliot Frazier is a Family Law Attorney who practices in Greenville, SC. She graduated from the University of South Carolina School of Law, and has been practicing law for 14 years now. Angela Frazier believes in helping you through one of the most stressful times of your life. Learn more about her experience by clicking here.