The laws of dividing property vary from state to state. As a starting point, however, most states allow parties to keep their own separate or non-marital property. Non-marital property includes property that a spouse brought into the marriage and kept separate during the marriage. It also includes inheritances received during the marriage and kept separate during the marriage. In addition, non-marital or separate property may include gifts received by just one spouse during the marriage. A few states permit division of separate as well as marital property when parties divorce, but the origin of the property is considered when deciding who receives the property.
The right of a spouse to keep his or her separate or non-marital property may depend on the degree to which the property was, in fact, kept separate. For example, if a wife came into a marriage with a $20,000 money market account and wanted to keep it as non-marital property, she should keep the account in her own name and not deposit any funds earned during the marriage into the account. She should not, for instance, deposit her paychecks directly into the money market account, because the paychecks are marital funds and could turn the whole account into marital property. The process of changing non-marital property into marital property and vice versa sometimes is called transmutation.