Can a Wife Take Assets in a Divorce That Were Owned by the Husband Prior to the Marriage in Ohio?

By Heather Frances J.D.

Ohio courts can divide all types of property in your divorce -- real estate, household furnishings, vehicles and bank accounts. However, some assets are not divided because they are considered the separate property of one spouse. Under most circumstances, this includes property a husband owned prior to marriage, but there are some exceptions.

Separate vs. Marital Property

Ohio law divides property into two categories: separate or marital. Separate property is property you owned prior to marriage or that you acquired by inheritance or gift. Assets acquired during the marriage are considered marital property, subject to the court’s authority to divide property during your divorce. For example, a house you owned prior to your marriage is your separate property, and you likely will get to keep it in your divorce. Similarly, money you earned prior to your marriage is your separate property but money you earned after you married is marital property.


One exception to the general rule that separate property remains indivisible in divorce is commingling. Commingling occurs when you mix -- or commingle -- your separate property with marital property to the extent that the court can no longer distinguish between the two. For example, if you deposited marital income into a bank account you owned prior to marriage and then paid marital bills from that account, an Ohio court may consider money in that account marital property.

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If your separate assets appreciated in value during the marriage due to marital efforts, such as your wife’s labor or contributions, the appreciation is considered marital property and is subject to division in your divorce. The asset itself remains separate property, so your spouse could not “take” it, but she would be entitled to a share of the appreciation. This might mean she would receive a cash payment or a greater share of another asset as compensation for her share of the appreciation.

Financial Misconduct

Under Ohio law, the court can award a share of one spouse’s separate property to the other spouse if he squandered or wasted marital assets or spent them on something other than the marriage. For example, if your spouse spent marital funds on a new girlfriend while you were still married, the Ohio court could give you a share of assets that would otherwise be his separate property, thereby compensating you for his financial wrongdoing by reimbursing the marital estate.

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