Dear Quentin,

My grandparents gifted me a home shortly before they passed around four years ago. We’ve lived in the home during our entire marriage starting in 1999, as it was owned by my grandparents, but we were never asked to pay rent as the home has been paid off by them since the mid-’90s. 

My name is the only one on the deed — as per my grandparents’ wishes — because they were always concerned that we would eventually divorce, and they didn’t want my husband benefiting in any way. Their main goal was to ensure that my four children and I always had a roof over our heads that no one else could take from us. 

Long story short, the marriage has turned very ugly in a short period of time, and my husband is demanding that he get half of everything we own. I’m not familiar with Georgia laws, and it’s extremely unsettling not knowing what to expect when it comes before a court of law. Any insight you can offer is much appreciated.

On the Brink of Divorce

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Dear On the Brink,

Don’t get mad or unsettled — get a divorce lawyer.

You live in an equitable-distribution state, where all property brought into the marriage is not considered community or marital property. Inheritance is also considered separate property, unless it is commingled during the marriage itself. 

If you and your husband made improvements to the house while it belonged to your grandparents, that’s his contribution as a guest or tenant. If you made significant improvements to the house after it was deeded to you, it could change from separate to community property.

According to Merriwether and Tharp, an Atlanta-based law firm, “If that property appreciates in value during the marriage, and that appreciation in value is caused by the efforts of the other spouse, the appreciated value may be subject to equitable division.”

“Inheritances may also be viewed by the court as marital property if those funds are commingled with other marital assets,” the firm adds. “For example, if inherited funds are deposited in a joint marital bank account or invested in a joint investment account with other marital funds.”

From what you say, this house should still belong to you, given that your name is on the deed and it was an inheritance. Be careful to pay for improvements and other costs out of your own bank account rather than a joint account. 

Gather your paperwork, and meet with an attorney.

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