Separate Property Definition and Legal Meaning

On this page, you'll find the legal definition and meaning of Separate Property, written in plain English, along with examples of how it is used.

What is Separate Property?

(n) Separate property is the property traceable or otherwise identifiable as acquired separately than with the help or support or involvement of spouse, like community property acquired before marriage, ancestral property by inheritance, specific gifts etc.

History and Meaning of Separate Property

Separate property refers to property that is acquired by an individual separately without the participation of their spouse. The property could include assets like money, real estate, or personal property like vehicles or jewelry. It is the opposite of community property, which is owned jointly by both spouses, and each spouse has equal rights over it.

Separate property laws have a long history in Western civilization, with the concept dating back to ancient Rome. In medieval England, the common law recognized property rights for married women that allowed them to own and sell property that they acquired both before and during marriage. However, under the legal doctrine of coverture, husbands had a superior legal status that allowed them to control their wives' property.

Today, separate property laws vary by state in the United States. In some states, separate property can become community property if the spouse comingles it with community property during the marriage.

Examples of Separate Property

  1. An inheritance received by one spouse before or during the marriage.
  2. Property acquired before the marriage by one spouse.
  3. A gift given specifically to one spouse.
  4. Income earned by one spouse from separate property investments.
  5. Damages awarded to one spouse for personal injury.

Legal Terms Similar to Separate Property

  1. Community property - Property owned jointly by both spouses.
  2. Marital property - Property acquired during the marriage by either spouse, which could be separate property or community property.
  3. Equitable distribution - A legal process for dividing all marital property equitably between the spouses upon divorce.
  4. Quasi-community property - Property acquired in a non-community property state that would have been community property if the couple lived in a community property state.
  5. Tenancy by the entirety - A type of joint ownership used by married couples that provides certain protection from creditors or claims arising from one spouse.