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Separate property may not stay separate

You believe that some of your property is protected during the divorce since it's separate property, not marital property. It belongs to you alone, rather than to the two of you as a couple.

For instance, maybe you already had a significant retirement fund when the two of you got married. Or maybe your parents gave you a significant inheritance that was intended for you alone. Or perhaps you won a personal injury lawsuit and the compensation was given to you directly.

These are all examples of funds that may count as separate property. However, don't make the mistake of assuming they stay separate no matter what. If you commingle them, they can turn into marital property.

Commingling simply means mixing them together with the rest of the assets your family controls. If your spouse has equal access to your property, he or she may have a claim to it, even if it was initially given to you.

For example, perhaps you didn't put that inheritance into its own bank account; you just put it into your joint account with your spouse. You both used it at times when buying a vacation home, buying a new car, and fixing up your family home. Paychecks went into that account and bills were paid out of it. It's now been so thoroughly mixed with your other assets that your spouse may be able to claim he or she has as much of a right to it as you do.

Be sure you really understand your rights when dividing property. Find out what steps you can take to protect what is yours and how your assets are really viewed from a legal perspective.

Source: Forbes, "Understanding How Assets Get Divided In Divorce," Jeff Landers, accessed Sep. 29, 2017

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