Spousal Support Payments

Can Inheritance Affect Spousal Support Payments?

Numerous rules apply to most divorces and these rules apply most of the time. However, there are exceptions to virtually every divorce-related rule, partially because family life is complicated, and partially because each family’s circumstances are unique.

For example, a broad rule of property division holds that income and assets acquired during the course of a couple’s romantic relationship will be treated as marital property. Marital property is subject to equitable division. However, there are some exceptions to this broad rule. One of these exceptions concerns inheritance.

Personal Property

If an individual inherits income or an asset, this gift is generally treated as personal property. Unlike marital property, personal property is not generally subject to equitable division standards. For example, say that Fred and Ginger are married. Several years into their marriage, Fred’s mother dies and leaves Fred her house, her fine jewelry, and her dog, Pudge. If Fred and Ginger get a divorce, those assets will likely be considered Fred’s alone, and he will not have to divide them equally with Ginger.

Treating inheritance as personal property is generally the rule regardless of when the gifting process occurs. Meaning that regardless of whether Fred’s mother died before, during, or after Fred and Ginger’s marriage, her gifts to Fred would be treated as his personal property. As a result, his inheritance would not generally affect any spousal support payments that he may either owe Ginger or receive from Ginger in the wake of their divorce.

This may seem like an imbalanced way to approach gifts of income or property, as significant inheritance can change someone’s financial circumstances significantly. It would seem odd, for example, to continue paying spousal support to an individual who had suddenly inherited millions. Similarly, it would seem odd to receive little support from someone who had inherited millions, but such is the respect for personal property and inheritance under the law.

Exceptions to the Rule

Of course, there are indeed exceptions to this broad rule. For example, if the inheritance itself was gifted with conditions attached, this development may affect treatment of the property. For example, if Fred’s mother gifted her wealth to Fred and Ginger equally, it would be treated as marital property. It is also worth noting that if Fred willingly “co-mingles” his inheritance with Ginger by placing it in a joint bank account or using inherited income to purchase legally shared property, it may lose its personal property immunity. In such cases, it would be treated as marital property and its division may affect the amount of spousal support that either Fred or Ginger ultimately receives.

Answers to Additional QuestionsIf you have questions about property division, spousal support, or how inheritance may affect either your divorce settlement or spousal support modification request, please consider speaking with an experienced family attorney. Consulting with an attorney will not make you obligated to take specific actions, but it will allow you to make informed decisions about your legal situation as you move forward in the divorce process.