What happens to heirlooms in a North Carolina divorce?

On Behalf of | Jan 4, 2024 | Family Law |

When a marriage ends, asset division can be a complex and emotional process.

Family heirlooms, with their sentimental value and history, often add an extra layer of complication to the proceedings.

Heirlooms are often separate property

In North Carolina, only marital property is part of the division property. Separate property, which a spouse owned before the marriage, is not. Family heirlooms owned by one spouse before the marriage generally fall into this category and remain with that individual.

Heirlooms received as gifts or through inheritance often retain their separate property status. If one spouse inherits a family heirloom or receives it as a gift, it is typically considered his or her individual property. This applies to items such as heirloom engagement rings. However, if the other spouse contributed to the value of the item, such as paying for refurbishment, the heirloom may now be a shared asset and part of the division process. In these cases, judges often place heirlooms with the original family because of their emotional and historical significance.

Prenuptial or postnuptial agreements

Couples may enter into prenuptial or postnuptial agreements that outline the fate of family heirlooms in the event of a divorce. These legally binding agreements can specify which spouse retains ownership of certain items, providing clarity and minimizing potential disputes. Splitting couples can also negotiate with each other during the divorce process.

According to Good News Network, over 40% of Americans have a family heirloom dating back over 50 years. Items passed down through the generations have a great deal of sentimental value. In cases where heirlooms are marital property and subject to division, judges often consider this and leave them with the original family.