The Family Use Doctrine.
Under the “family use doctrine,” any separate property, owned by one party, but used extensively by a family is converted to a marital asset. See Stewart v. Stewart, 864 So.2d 934 (Miss. 2003); Hankins v. Hankins, 866 So.2d 508, 511-512 (Miss. Ct. App. 2004). This means that your granddad’s clothes, or more importantly that Destin beach house you inherited, while initially separate property, can lose its separate status and be considered a marital asset by the Court.
How does this happen? By showing “Proof of family use.“
For instance, if the parties were married on the beach in front of the beach house and honeymooned there. The parties both testified that they frequently stayed in the beach house and both parties’ family used the beach house throughout the marriage. The parties used the home on holidays; including Easters, Thanksgivings, Christmas, Birthdays and as a getaway.
Both parties made Contributions to the care and upkeep of the beach house during the marriage:
The spouse made considerable efforts and contributions to the beach house. She designed, picked out and arranged the majority of the furnishings and decor of this home. She helped in the maintenance and upkeep of this home by cleaning, cooking, vacuuming, mopping, doing dishes, laundry and the like. She and her family performed maintenance on the home, including lawn maintenance and general repair. The husband also contributed to this home financially from joint accounts, in kind by his efforts during the marriage and he also otherwise cared for the property.
The Court can find that the beach house has lost its separate status due to family use and is a marital asset subject to equitable distribution.
So, just know that gifts, inheritance and otherwise separate assets, owned only by one party before the marriage, MAY lose their separate status if they are used throughout the marriage.
Matthew Thompson is a family law attorney in Mississippi and recommends that if you intend that your Granddad’s clothes, or beach house, not be subject to division by the Court in a divorce, either get a pre-nup or don’t use it. Tough advice, I know…
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You may also contact Matthew with your family law case, question or concern at (601) 850-8000 or Matthew@bowtielawyer.ms