It is common for spouses in Virginia – especially those on second marriages or who get married later in life – to live in a house that was purchased by one spouse prior to the marriage and, after which, the other spouse moved into the same house. But what happens if the spouses divorce – does the spouse who moved in have any right to ownership interest in the house after the divorce?
Separate and Marital Property in Virginia
Virginia law on property distribution makes a basic distinction between separate property and marital property, with separate property including all property owned by one spouse before a marriage (as well as property received as a gift or inheritance), and marital property being property that was acquired with funds earned during the marriage.
In a divorce, each spouse will get to walk away with his or her own separate property, while marital property will be subject to equitable distribution. With equitable distribution, a judge will look at all the marital property owned collectively by the spouses and divide it between the two based on a number of “equitable” factors.
How Separate and Marital Property Apply to a Family House
The rules on separate property might lead one to think that a house purchased by one spouse before the marriage automatically means that that spouse keeps it after a divorce. This could be the result when, for example, the house was entirely paid off by that spouse prior to marriage and no improvements were made to the property, but that is often not the case.
If the house was purchased prior to marriage by one spouse, but the couple used marital funds to pay off the mortgage on the house or to make improvements – marital funds being any income received by either spouse during the marriage – then the outcome would be different. The house itself will likely remain the property of the purchasing spouse after the divorce (unless the purchasing spouse put the other spouse on the title of the house), but the other spouse will have a property interest in a portion of the value of the house as it was partially paid for or saw its value increase due to marital funds.
For example, if a spouse purchased a $600,000 house with a $100,000 payment, and had paid $100,000 of the principal off before getting married, but then paid off the remaining $400,000 of the principal with income earned during the marriage, then that spouse would likely still be the owner of the house after the divorce, but the other spouse could successfully argue that the $400,000 used to pay off the house should be considered marital property subject to equitable distribution in a settlement agreement or judge’s order.
Matters of real estate and equitable distribution can be quite complicated in Virginia – and the above is only one of numerous issues that may arise affecting each spouse’s interests – and spouses are advised to speak with a Virginia family law attorney regarding their rights.
Schedule a Consultation With a Virginia Family Law Attorney Today
At Kurylo Gold & Josey, PLC in Fredericksburg, we will guide through all of your questions regarding all aspects of divorce including division of real estate property, and help you work towards a favorable outcome in your family law matter. To schedule a consultation with one of our Virginia family law attorneys, contact Kurylo Gold & Josey, PLC at 540.642.1766.