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What is Commingling of an Inheritance in a RI Divorce?

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Atty Chris Pearsall

Authored By:  Christopher Pearsall, RI Divorce Attorney
a.k.a.  " The Rhode Island Divorce Coach ℠ "

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Commingling, at least when we are talking about Rhode Island divorce, is the process of changing the character of a non-marital or pre-marital asset into a marital asset.

Why is that important?  Because generally, non-marital assets and premarital assets that have not been either

1) Commingled, or

2) Transmuted 

are not part of the marital estate and belong to the person who first owned them or received them.

To avoid confusion let's deal strictly with commingling in this article.

Generally, Inheritances or Gifts to one spouse of the marriage from a third-person are not part of the marital estate and are not subject to the court's power of equitable distribution.  They simply belong to the person who initially received them.

However, there are two exceptions, namely, "commingling" and "transmutation."

We'll only deal with commingling for the time being.

 Each case is dependent upon the facts and circumstances of that case.    However, there are a few fundamental ways that visual people can understand this concept.  I'll show one way very quickly in this brief article.

Your Account



You have a bank account solely in your name.  Imagine this glass is the bank account.

Suddenly someone dies and you inherit $50,000 and put it in that account.  



Money in Account
$50,000 in Your Account





Your $50,000 is the water that is now in your account which is the glass.




Since the account is solely in your name and the money was only inherited by you, it is yours and it is protected as long as it stays this way.  

There may be numerous assets that were obtained during your marriage from your earnings or your spouses earnings but the $50,000 is a non-marital asset and has been protected by keeping it separate from assets or debts related to your marriage.  

In short, it is a non-marital asset and it is not subject to distribution in a Rhode Island family court divorce or separation proceeding.

Now, let's see what happens with an example of commingling.

Joint Bank Account
Joint Account with $54,500


This time instead of having your own account, you and your spouse already had a Joint Account that has $4,500 in it that came from your income, yours and/or your spouse's income.

So the joint account had $4,500 in it and you deposit the $50,00 that you inherited into it. 

Look closely at the Joint Account on the left that now has $54,000 in it. 

If you were to get divorced right now and this account had to be divided, you should not expect to get that $50,000 back as an inheritance.  


Why?  Because you have commingled it with the other money.  Look closely!  If the water is the money, then the water molecules are the dollars in the account.  Can you tell which water molecules were in the glass before and which ones are the new ones?  No, you can't and neither could a judge.  They have been so mixed together they they must be considered as just one account.  

Rhode Island law doesn't allow you to simply cut the $50,000 back out again.  Now it is in a glass that is in both names and it is impossibly mixed together so it can't be unmixed, so Rhode Island Law says the entire amount of money belongs to both you and your spouse and the judge is likely to split all the monies in the account on a 50/50 basis. 

Commingling is the same concept as blending or mixing.  If you blend or mix something enough with your spouse or your family life that a judge considers it marital, then the judge can determine that you have commingled it and instead of it being your single property anymore it can become marital property and divided by the family court.

The moral of the story.  

Generally speaking, if you want something to remain separate then keep it separate, entirely.  If there had even been $1.00 in the Joint account and you put the $50,000 into the Joint account even for 10 minutes, you would find out that you put it in there for 10 minutes too long and it would have been too late.  You would have commingled the $50,000.