You tend to share most of what you own with a spouse, but that doesn’t mean you can’t protect separate property during your marriage and if you decide to divorce. Arizona has community property laws that will generally result in the division of most of the property and income from your marriage during a divorce.

However, you could have separate property that is exempt from division in divorce proceedings. If you have inherited valuable assets, ranging from financial resources to real estate, from family members or loved ones, your inheritance is probably separate property. Gifts often remain separate property, and you can typically consider what you owned prior to marriage to be separate property.

Still, if you aren’t careful with the management of your resources during your marriage, your ex could lay claim to them during your divorce.

Be careful about sharing access to and control over accounts during marriage

When you have separate property, whether it’s a large savings account developed before you got married or an inherited investment account, you have the right to use that property as you see fit.

You can use your separate property to support your marriage or do kind things for your spouse without endangering your ownership of it. You could pay down your mortgage with part of your inheritance or buy your spouse a truly extravagant gift. Doing that can be a sweet gesture that lets you treat your spouse without endangering your property rights.

If you give your spouse a debit card for an inherited account, if you add their name to a savings account that was once solely yours or if you otherwise give them direct control over or access to your separate property, especially if you deposit financial resources into a shared account, your spouse can theoretically claim that you commingled those assets and converted them to community property by doing so. 

You will have to protect physical assets as well

Not all separate property is financial in nature. You could have vehicles, antiques or real estate holdings that belong solely to you. You can allow your spouse to enjoy that property or even live in real estate that you own, but you need to be careful about adding their name to ownership paperwork or allowing them to perform or pay for maintenance, upgrades, or repairs to your separate property.

If you worry about protecting your separate property during a divorce, talking about your concerns and strategizing to minimize your risk before you file can be a wise approach.

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