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Rhode Island Attorney - What is Pre-Marital Property in a Rhode Island Divorce Proceeding?

What is pre-marital property for purposes of a Rhode Island Divorce? 

Seems like a pretty straight-forward question to address in a Rhode Island Divorce, doesn't it? You'd think that it is just property that either spouse owned prior to the marriage. Makes logical sense doesn't it?!?

I've often wondered if the law needs to complicate things or if it's provisions just lend us a helping hand. Yet for whatever reason, it does. Perhaps it is simply that the law must take into account as many of life's circumstances as possible and give the Judge's a bit of a rest from all the emotions which, of course, run high in the family court on a daily basis.

In any event, pre-marital property isn't always that simple. For instance, if you take a premarital item, like a pool table you owned before you got married, and you put it in a marital home with everyone (husband, wife and kids) and everyone uses it for 15 years, is it still a pre-marital asset? Or could it be that by putting it in the home and using it as a family that the owner of the item caused it to lose its "pre-marital" quality and has converted it into a "marital asset."

Consider this example and see what you think:

Jim and Cindy each owned real estate in their own separate names. They got married in 1995 and in 1996 they bought another piece of property to live in while they rented out their separate houses that they owned prior to the marriage. Both Jim and Cindy had separate bank accounts and put the rental monies from their houses into their own personal accounts. Jim did not put Cindy on his bank account and Cindy didn't put Jim on her bank account. They agreed to keep their bank accounts separate.

While they are living in their marital home they each take money from their weekly incomes and put it into a joint checking account to pay for their bills on their marital home?

In 2008 Cindy and Jim agree to have an amicable divorce.  Cindy files for divorce.  Jim files his counterclaim for divorce.

To be on the safe side Jim hires a lawyer who his recommended by a friend to give him advice about his divorce. Unbeknownst to Jim, his lawyer primarily focuses his practice on commercial real estate closings.

During the divorce Cindy discovers that Jim hasn't been quite faithful to her for the last three years of their marriage and has been having an affair with their next door neighbor, Sharon.

Cindy is upset and wants to punish Jim for his infidelity. Cindy hires a full-time family law attorney who discovers that Jim has been paying his water ad sewer taxes as well as his property insurance for his separate house out of their joint account.

Cindy's divorce attorney makes a claim that Jim's house is a marital asset because he used their joint account and therefore both of their monies were used to maintain Jim's house. Cindy's attorney checks into her finances and how she maintained her separate house and finds that everything appears to have been kept separate and therefore he maintains that Cindy's house is most certainly pre-marital.

Since infidelity is normally only considered by the court when apportioning the marital assets of the parties and not as a basis to "punish" an offending party, what, if anything, could Jim argue to get his separate house out of this mess and return it to a pre-marital status?

Is there anything that Jim could look into that might bring Cindy's separate house into the scope of a marital asset that the court has the power to distribute?

If Cindy contributed only half of what Jim did to the the joint checking account, is Jim entitled to use that extra contribution to pay minor expenses on his separate house?

If Cindy was on disability for a time and Jim leant Cindy money to make the mortgage payments on her separate house for several months, does that make any difference?

If Cindy put on a new addition to her separate house but she did so by a credit application that stated Jim's income as a means of paying back the loan, does that matter if Jim didn't sign the loan application?

These are just a few of the many questions that arise with premarital property under Rhode Island Divorce Law.

There are at least 3 other more direct issues raised by this scenario.  Can you spot them?

If you had an item of significant value in your life and you didn't want to lose it or be ordered to sell it by the court, could it possibly be worth the price of a Rhode Island Divorce attorney to give you the best chance at saving that item?

Authored by:

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

Attorney Pearsall's practice is focused almost exclusively in the areas of Divorce and Family law.

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 based on Rhode Island and 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.

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