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Rhode Island Divorce Lawyer: The Doctrine of Transmutation

In a Rhode Island divorce you may not have heard of the "Doctrine of Transmutation."  Yet it's something you certainly want to know about or at least something you don't want to be surprised by.

The doctrine of transmutation applies in a divorce when non-marital property is pulled into the marital estate when a non-marital asset that is in the name of one spouse is transferred jointly into the name of both spouses.

The court will generally deem this asset to have been transmuted into a marital asset absent clear and convincing evidence to the contrary. 

The doctrine would come into effect, for instance, where you have a Rhode Island Divorce and there is a piece of real estate that the wife purchased with inherited monies and wanted to keep separate from her husband, however, she had her husband's name added to the deed during the marriage.

A spouse wishing to combat the doctrine of transmutation can usually expect substantial resistance in court because the doctrine of transmutation has been held to be consistent with the idea that marriage is a partnership and therefore the intention by the transfer into joint names embodies the notion that the transferring party intended both parties to share equally in the asset.  See Hurley v. Hurley, 610 A2d 80 (RI 1992); and see Quinn v. Quinn, 512 A2d 848 (R.I. 1986).


It is an interesting doctrine in that, if the wife then caused the "transmutation" or... change of character in the property such that she permanently changed it to a property that her husband also had an interest in. . . then no single act by her can remove that interest.  In essence the wife changed the property from what might have arguably have been "pre-marital" real estate to one that is now part of the marital estate and and is subject to division by the Rhode Island family court whether she likes it or not.

While this doctrine might seem to be fairly obvious, it can be a bit more complex in its underlying tones.  It is very easy for laypeople and even casual attorneys practicing in family law to misuse the doctrine. For those attorneys who do use it, either poorly or out of context you should make sure that you and/or your chosen attorney are aware of the defenses that can be used and which might  diffuse the claim of the doctrine.

Authored by:

Christopher A. Pearsall, Esquire
571 Pontiac Avenue
Cranston, RI  02910
Phone:  (401) 354-2369

NOTE:  The postings on this website are NOT legal advice, DO NOT create an attorney/client relationship and are NOT a substitute for a detailed consultation with an attorney experienced in the state where you have your legal issue.  This site is presented for the convenience of the internet public.

* The Rhode Island Supreme Court licenses all lawyers in the general practice of law and has no procedure for recognition of specialty in any area of law.