Use of separate funds in the marriage does not convert the fund to marital property


In the seminal case of Helmsley v. Helmsley, 639 So.2d 915 (Miss. 1994), the Mississippi Supreme Court defined marital property as “any and all property acquired or accumulated during the marriage.” Hemsley at 915. Furthermore, any asset owned by a spouse is presumed to be marital. Yancy v. Yancy, 752 So.2d 1006, 1011-1012 (Miss. 1999).

As a rule, property which is acquired before a marriage and kept separate is not considered marital property. However, the character of the separate property can be changed from separate to marital by conduct of the parties during the marriage, such as use. For example, the court has held that use by the parties of a vacation home owned by the husband before the marriage converted the home from separate property to marital property by “family use” and was therefore subject to consideration in the equitable division of property.

The marital use doctrine should not be confused, however, to convert separate property to marital property simply because separate funds are used for marital purposes. For example, if a party uses funds from an inheritance to improve a marital home, the funds so used are converted but not the untouched inheritance. In the recent case of OATES v. OATES, NO. 2018-CA-01168-COA (Decided Feb 18, 2020) the Court cited the following:

“Merely using inherited property or cash for a joint purpose does not in and of itself equate into a conversion of separate property to marital property. Everett v. Everett, 919 So. 2d 242, 248 (¶23) (Miss. Ct. App. 2005). This Court specifically stated in Everett, “Harmon argues that this Court should consider Peggy’s inheritance to be marital property because Peggy has used part of her inheritance to renovate the marital domicile. We find no merit in this argument.” Id”

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