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Questions about Joint Property Law

Joint property, also known as community property, is a type of property ownership system between spouses in which property gained over the course of a marriage becomes joint property of both spouses. In the case of divorce, annulment, or death, the property would be divided between the spouses. The property owned by a spouse before marriage is owned by that spouse and can be converted to joint property only when it is transmuted to community property. Community property states in the United States include Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin. In such states, each spouse owns one half of the undivided property acquired during marriage with exceptions for gifts or inheritances. However, the rules may vary from state to state. In non-community property states, the courts may require the property to be divided equitably. The questions answered below by legal experts may help clarify doubts on joint property law.

Is a family inheritance received while married considered joint property in a divorce?

Generally, inherited property is not considered to be joint property in a marriage and will not be subject to division of assets during divorce. However, if such property was comingled with other property acquired during marriage or was used as financial support for the marriage it may be considered a marital asset. Any property received while you were separated from your spouse and has not been comingled with existing or new marital asset will likely not be dived by court upon divorce. Law may vary from state to state.

Can I be made liable for joint property acquired by my husband and his father before our marriage?

Typically, you will not be liable for property purchased by your husband before your marriage. Separate property can become marital property, if for instance a spouse becomes financially involved with the property. In your case, it is unlikely you will have any obligations unless the ownership was conferred to you. Any question of personal liability would arise if you were given the Power of Attorney (PoA) and if, while exercising the PoA, you made decisions that incurred liability. In this case, since the property was purchased as joint ownership with your spouse’s father, in the event of death of your spouse the property will most likely be transferred to the father unless they owned the property as tenants in common.

What’s the remedy for my wife not cooperating in the sale of joint property where she is staying with our children, as she finds this situation more favorable than selling?

If your spouse is refusing lower the price of the house to match local market prices, it might be construed as deliberately attempting to prevent sale of the property. Such action may be viewed as violation of the court’s order requiring the parties to sell the property. You may file a show cause notice with the court requesting the court to hold your ex in contempt for not cooperating in the sale of the property. Additionally, given the impact on your finances, you may also want to file a motion to modify support.

In Pennsylvania, how can I divide the joint property and debt with my partner to whom I’m not married but wish to separate?

The most sensible option would be to reach a mutual agreement in which one partner buys the other partner’s share of the property and then refinances to be the sole person on the mortgage. If you do not do this, it is likely you will have to sell the property and share the equity equally. With regards the accumulated debt, you may want to create a written agreement that details splitting the debt; however, it would not be binding on the creditors if you both have your names on the accounts. You may want to close down any shared accounts so neither partner can keep accumulating debt in an account with the other partner’s name on it.

If your partner refuses to sell the property or does not agree on division of equity, you may file a suit to force a sale and have your name removed from the account. As the co-owner of bank accounts and credit cards, you may choose to close them at your will.

Property laws vary from state to state, and some states are joint property states. If a couple enters into marriage or is simply living together, division of property is inevitable in the case of a separation or divorce. To understand the specifics of the law regarding joint property in your particular state, you may want to get clarification from a legal expert.
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