Most people are aware that marital property is divided during divorce proceedings, but what qualifies as marital or separate property under Missouri law? If you plan on divorcing in the St. Louis, MO area, you should have some idea of what to expect when it comes to the division of the property you and your ex own together.

One of the many forms you will need to submit to the court during your divorce proceedings is the statement of property and debt, which both you and your ex must sign and submit for the divorce to finalize. This form will cover all the property and debt you and your ex own so the court can make determinations about appropriate division. Before you get to this point, you should carefully review all the different property types this form should cover as they will all come up during your divorce proceedings.

Real Property

“Real property” under Missouri state law refers to assets such as land, homes, and other fixed properties such as commercial buildings or other immovable pieces of property. Real property may also refer to permanently affixed machinery, structures, crops, and many other things. These pieces of property cannot move, and divorce proceedings will boil down to either one spouse assuming control over these pieces of property or the couple selling off real property and dividing the proceeds according to their divorce decree.

Personal Property

“Personal property” can include various types of property, such as vehicles, jewelry, clothing, bank accounts, retirement accounts, and investment accounts. These kinds of property are generally more flexible and are also subject to division during divorce proceedings in Missouri. In most cases, personal property that one spouse owns prior to entering a marriage counts as that spouse’s separate personal property.

Missouri’s Dual Property Laws

Missouri state law inherently considers all a divorcing couple’s property as marital property and subject to division unless either divorcing spouse can prove that specific pieces of property are separate property. Missouri’s definition of marital property can include any and all property a couple owned during their marriage, so making distinctions for pieces of separate property is vital for each divorcing spouse.

Both real and personal property could potentially qualify as marital property under Missouri’s dual property laws, unless a spouse can prove a specific piece of property belongs to them. If either spouse acquired property after the couple married, it will be very important to provide evidence proving a spouse’s sole ownership or the property will be subject to division. It’s also possible for some pieces of personal property to “transmute” into marital property. For example, if one spouse owned a piece of real estate before marriage and then later added their spouse’s name to the deed, this establishes a “donative change,” indicating to the court that the original owner was willing to extend partial ownership to their spouse.

Separate, individual property can also include gifts and inheritance received during the course of a marriage. For example, if one spouse received an inheritance from a relative during their marriage, the inheritance would qualify as that spouse’s separate personal property. Gifts also qualify as separate property, even if one spouse gave a gift to the other. The recipient would be able to keep this gift as separate property.

Commingling Property

Missouri’s property division laws also cover “commingled” property, or assets or property acquired by one spouse prior to the marriage that eventually becomes commingled with marital property. Imagine a person who places a down payment on a house and lives in it prior to marrying. After the marriage, the couple moves into the house and the other spouse starts making contributions toward the mortgage payments. In this situation, the separate property has become commingled with the marital property.

Following this example, a Missouri court would create a formula that fairly compensates the original owner of the house under both marital and separate property terms. The second spouse who did not have a claim of separate property on the home would still have a claim of marital property and receive appropriate compensation for their contributions toward paying for the house.

Out-of-Court Property Division Agreements

One of the most contentious areas of any divorce is property division. Each divorcing spouse may have different beliefs about the ownership of certain pieces of property. This can quickly escalate to heated arguments concerning ownership and the definitions of different pieces of property under Missouri state law.

In some cases, a divorcing couple can develop their own property division agreement out of court. Since the couple knows their property and history better than anyone else, this is the best method for handling property division in a divorce. The couple can decide how they will split their property in an out-of-court property division agreement, which will speed up divorce proceedings significantly.

Equitable Division Determinations from Judges

If a couple is unable or unwilling to develop their own property division agreement, they will need to defer to a judge’s decision when it comes to dividing their marital property. Unlike many states that use community property statutes to divide marital property 50/50, this does not always happen in equitable division states like Missouri. If a judge handles property division in St. Louis, MO, it’s likely that the end result will appear skewed in one spouse’s favor, such as a 70/30 or 60/40 split.

In the event there is any disagreement as to a piece of property’s status as marital or separate property, the spouse arguing for separate property will need to provide evidence of their claim. This typically involves providing the court with proof of ownership that shows who paid for the property and when they paid for it.

Hire an Experienced Attorney

Considering Missouri’s equitable division rule for divorce, it’s imperative that you seek legal counsel for a divorce in St. Louis, MO. Your attorney can help you locate and use evidence that shows your rightful claim over separate property and ensure the fairest possible division of your marital property. Equitable division rules can make divorce very messy in some cases, but the right attorney can provide the guidance and professional advice you need to prepare for your property division negotiations in St. Louis.