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Michigan Family Law Blog

What Happens to Family Heirlooms in a Divorce?

Posted by Cameron Goulding | Jul 07, 2021

As part of the divorce process, every aspect of one's family and financial life must be addressed.  This includes a long laundry list of potential issues including custody, parenting time, restrictions on parenting time, child support, alimony, division of debt, division of property, insurance - truly every aspect of one's life is considered and addressed in the judgment of divorce.  While not everyone has children and not everyone will qualify for alimony (or spousal support as it is called in Michigan) one thing that is addressed in virtually every divorce is the division of property and assets.

How is Property Divided in a Michigan Divorce?

When dividing property in Michigan (from the home, to retirement accounts, bank accounts and the pots and pans), the first step is to determine whether the property is marital or separate.  Very basically anything that the either of the parties earned, purchased or otherwise acquired while they were married will be considered marital property regardless of who may have "earned" the property or the income to purchase the property or how the property is titled.  Marital property is generally divided equally between the parties. 

On the other hand, if a property is determined to be the separate property of one spouse, than that particular asset should be awarded to the party to whom it belongs without any offset from other marital assets, in other words, they are awarded 100% of this asset without any offset to the other spouse.  One party may be awarded 100% of a marital asset but 50% of the value of that asset must be offset by other marital assets.  A good example is the marital home.  One party may want to keep the marital home, in that case, the attorneys will help the parties determine the marital equity in the home that must be divided, then the party that keeps the home must either refinance to buy-out the other spouse's interest or the other spouse can be awarded other assets that have a total monetary value equal to the 50% share of the equity.

Of course things are never really simple with the law, so property that was once separate can become marital property and subject to equal division through a number of ways throughout the marriage.  Fortunately or unfortunately, there is almost no way to make marital property separate property unless one already had a prenuptial or, in limited circumstances, a post-nuptial.

Will I Get to Keep My Family Heirlooms?

The answer is typically yes!  Family heirlooms, must often jewelry or antiques, are typically considered separate property.  Also often due to the nature of the asset, it will maintain it's nature as separate property and will be awarded to the spouse to whose family the item belongs.  Frankly, heirlooms are for the most part considered personal property and most attorneys do not really handle these issues directly unless the item has a very significant value.  The reason is that most personal property, including most heirlooms in reality, are not worth the cost in attorney fees to argue over.  So what typically happens is that the lawyers representing the divorcing spouses will agree upon an arbitrator to work directly with the parties without the involvement of the attorneys to divide the property, if necessary.  Fortunately, most of the time the spouses are able to agree on how to divide these assets without such assistance.

If you have any questions regarding a potential divorce, separation, or prenuptial questions it really is best to consult with a well-respected Michigan family law attorney as soon possible.  The earlier you do the sooner you will know what the future holds for you and you can anticipate how to handle the coming changes.  Please do not hesitate to contact us and schedule a consultation.

About the Author

Cameron Goulding

A native of Oakland County, Michigan, family lawyer Cameron C. Goulding has been providing counseling and legal services of the highest caliber to individuals and families in Southeastern Michigan for over 24 years. Mr. Goulding grew up in Oakland County, Michigan and graduated from Birmingham G...

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