My husband placed his money in a trust before we married, and used it to buy properties. We’re getting divorced. Am I entitled to any of these?

Dear Moneyist,

My spouse created a revocable trust 2 months before our marriage without my knowledge. He placed all of his money in the trust fund. We are now getting a divorce. Am I entitled to any of his assets? Or not?

He also bought an investment property, supposedly with his trust fund a month after marriage without my knowledge (his mom co-signed), and bought another investment property with his mom before marriage. I am the only one on the deed of the house we currently live in. 

Soon-to-be-ex-wife

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Dear Soon-to-be-ex,

It sounds like your husband is either a very cautious man or, in this case at least, he believes that marriage is the first step towards a happy divorce. Setting up this trust in secret did not bode well for his trust in the marriage itself. Ditto buying an investment property with his mother without telling you. I suggest you were dealing with an unknown quantity from the very beginning, and I’m talking about your husband here, not the total value of his assets.

Here’s a quick breakdown: In an equitable-property state, a divorce court is under no obligation to divide property 50/50, but generally assets brought into the marriage are often treated as separate property. In a community-property state, any assets acquired during the marriage are deemed marital property and divided 50/50. In a community-property state, gifts and inheritance are not regarded as marital property and, therefore, not divided equally in a divorce.

Your family home is considered community property if it was purchased during the marriage, and/or if joint funds were used to pay the mortgage or for the upkeep of the property regardless of whose name is on the deed. However, in an equitable-property state, the divorce court may take your husband’s own financial activities and/or behavior into account when splitting the assets. If you purchased this property prior to the marriage, it will remain yours and yours alone. 

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According to Long, Murphy & Zung, a law firm in Naples, Fla., “One of the most common reasons exes lay claim to trusts belonging to their spouses is because assets were pulled out during the marriage and commingled with the couple’s finances.” It adds, “Trusts work very much like any other asset does in a divorce.” If your husband owned it prior to the marriage, it remains separate property. Florida is an equitable-distribution state. 

Your husband is subject to the same rules as everyone else. Koons Fuller, a law firm in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, breaks it down thus: “You can determine if a house is community property or separate property, using the following rules: A house purchased during marriage is presumed to be community property. A house owned before marriage is separate property, as is a house inherited or received as a gift.” Texas is a community-property state.

Your lawyer will help you navigate the finer details in your state and marriage. Generally, secrets do not bode well for a spouse’s confidence in a marriage. Some are worse than others. I have received many letters where one or both spouses write a secret will or a wife who said her husband, who had a monthly income of $8,000, sent his mail to a P.O. box to hide his finances. One silver lining here: Your husband’s actions seem less egregious compared to that.

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