Can You Legally Take Items When You Move Out of a Marital Home?
You may wonder what will happen to the marital home, bank accounts, personal property, and other assets acquired during the marriage.
Can you remove marital property before the divorce is finalized? What are the rules regarding marital property division and protecting assets in a divorce situation?
This article will provide key information and legal answers about removing property from the marital home, including the consequences of taking items before the divorce decree and the best ways to protect your share of the marital estate.
What is Considered Marital Property in a Divorce?
“Marital property” refers to any assets acquired during the marriage by either spouse. This includes the marital home, even if it is only titled in one spouse’s name, other real estate, bank accounts, retirement accounts, businesses, cars, jewelry, furniture, and other personal property.
In community property states, most property acquired during the marriage is regarded as community property that is divided equally in a divorce. In equitable distribution states, marital property is subject to equitable (fair) division by the court.
Separate property acquired before the marriage or received as an inheritance is not usually considered marital property. However, if the separate property has increased in value due to contributions from marital funds, the increase may be viewed as marital property.
Can You Legally Remove Property from the Marital Home Before Divorce?
In Minnesota, the general rule is that marital property should not be removed from the marital home before the divorce decree, as this could be considered dissipation of marital assets. However, spouses still have certain separate property rights in some circumstances.
Marital property is any assets acquired during the marriage through the efforts of either spouse, no matter whose name it is in. This includes income, possessions, property, and appreciation of assets earned during the marriage.
Separate property, on the other hand, are assets owned by one spouse before the marriage or received individually by gift or inheritance during the marriage. Separate property may also include damage awards from personal injury lawsuits and some property bought after legal separation.
Can You Remove Your Separate Property?
If you have an identifiable separate property in the home, like inherited furniture or valuables you owned before marriage, you may be able to remove these items if you can prove they belong solely to you.
However, you should also consider other factors like:
- Removing large amounts of marital property can seriously diminish the marital estate, leaving your spouse with significantly less in the final property division.
- Selling, destroying, or hiding marital assets during divorce may be considered dissipation under Minnesota law. The court can compensate your spouse for the dissipated property by awarding more of the remaining marital assets to them.
- If you already filed divorce paperwork, your spouse may be able to get a court order preventing you from disposing of marital property. Violating such an order can have serious consequences.
- The court looks unfavorably upon spouses who intentionally damage the marital estate out of spite or greed. This behavior can impact property division and other outcomes.
It’s always wise to speak with a Minnesota divorce attorney first, as your spouse may argue the items became marital property throughout the marriage.
What Happens If You Remove Marital Property Before Divorce?
If you remove marital property without your spouse’s agreement or court approval, you may face unfavorable consequences in the divorce property settlement. For example, the court may award more of the remaining marital property to your spouse to compensate for items improperly removed.
You may have to account for the value of items taken and “buy back” your spouse’s interest in the property from your division of assets. If valuable items are missing, the court could accept your spouse’s valuation rather than relying on your assessment.
You could be ordered to return property removed from the marital estate. Additional legal fees will likely be incurred arguing over items removed, which reduces the marital estate. Your actions could be seen as purposeful dissipation of assets when decisions are made about alimony and financial support.
If items were taken illegally, you may face civil lawsuits or criminal charges separate from the divorce case. Significant dissipation will likely increase conflict, complicate negotiations, and make reaching a settlement more difficult.
In summary, removing marital property without consent rarely improves one’s position in divorce proceedings and can backfire by reducing your property outcome. Speak to an experienced divorce attorney before taking items to avoid missteps.
How to Protect Assets When Going Through a Divorce
If you are concerned about protecting assets in your divorce situation, speak to a family law attorney as soon as possible about your options.
Here are some tips:
- Consult an attorney before removing property – Get advice to avoid dissipation accusations. Your divorce lawyer may be able to file motions to allow the removal of personal belongings.
- Open a separate bank account – Have your paycheck or other funds deposited in your name only. Do not drain joint accounts completely. Keep records of what you spend.
- Photograph/inventory marital property – Documenting assets can help later if items disappear or are damaged. Store copies of records safely outside the home.
- Change passwords/security codes – Prevent unauthorized access to accounts. Do not change or cancel insurance policies without consent.
- Secure valuables in a safe deposit box – If you have concerns about theft of jewelry, cash, or important documents, consider putting them in a safe deposit box that only you can access.
- Get a court order – If you have serious concerns and need to restrict access or remove your spouse from the home, you can seek a restraining order or exclusive home occupancy through a divorce attorney.
- Seek temporary orders – Request temporary orders on asset use, custody, and support early in the divorce process to protect your rights.
- Avoid transferring joint assets – Refrain from transferring property ownership or adding your spouse to assets during the divorce process. Consult your lawyer before making any major asset moves.
Divorce laws vary by state, especially regarding the division of marital property. An experienced local divorce attorney can advise you on your rights under the laws of your state and ensure your interests are protected through every step of the process.
At Martine Law in Minnesota, our seasoned divorce attorneys provide the trusted guidance to help you make smart decisions regarding your property settlement when filing for divorce in Minnesota. We have extensive experience with Minnesota marital property laws and can advise you on your rights regarding removing possessions from the marital home.
Contact us today to schedule a confidential consultation with a compassionate divorce lawyer. We are here to protect your interests during this difficult time and develop an optimal strategy for dividing your marital assets during your Minnesota divorce.