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Even your separate property can get split in a Michigan divorce

How you divide up your personal property with your ex in divorce will likely depend on a number of factors. If you have a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement, that document may guide how the courts split up your assets. You may also be able to reach amicable terms with your ex before you file for divorce through negotiations or mediation.

However, if you don't have an agreement about splitting up your possessions by the time that you file with the courts, then that responsibility falls to the judge presiding over your case. Michigan law directs family court judges to split up marital assets in an equitable manner.

The pool of marital assets typically includes items and income acquired during marriage by either spouse. Assets owned prior to the marriage or those either inherited or received as gifts typically remain separate property in a divorce. Still, Michigan law does authorize the courts to potentially divide separate property in certain divorce situations.

Two circumstances often result in vulnerable separate property

There are two situations in which the courts are more likely to treat your separate property as something subject to division in divorce. The first is when commingling occurs. Commingling involves the treatment of separate property as marital property. Depositing money inherited from a family member into a joint account, for example, would commingle those inherited funds with marital assets with the spouse who did not directly inherit a claim to those assets.

It is possible for you to wind up splitting an asset that you owned before the marriage as well. The marital home or other real estate holdings are common sources of contention. If you purchased the home prior to the marriage or inherited it from a family member, you may consider the home your sole and separate property. The courts may not agree with that assertion, particularly if your spouse contributed substantially to the maintenance, improvement or general upkeep of the property.

Whether they paid for the insurance policy and taxes due on the property or contributed financially to repairs, such as the installation of new windows, larger assets such as your home, vacation house or vehicle, may wind up vulnerable to division because of your spouse's investment of time or financial support for that asset.

Vulnerable assets require careful strategy during divorce proceedings

If you worry about commingled or jointly maintained assets, you need to develop a strategy to protect your best interests in the divorce. The best solution is usually a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement acknowledging certain assets -- ranging from your inherited familial home to your pension through your employer -- as separate property not subject to a claim by your spouse in the event of a divorce.

If it is too late for such documentation, then negotiating terms through mediation may be a solution for those with specific assets to protect. The sooner you get advice and take action to protect yourself, the greater your chances of success.

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