Simply put, in Missouri, marital property is property that is acquired during the marriage and non-marital property is property acquired before the marriage. However, for every rule, there are exceptions. This rule has a number of exceptions, some obvious and others not so obvious. The emphasis here however, will be about how marital property is decided in the court of law in Missouri.
For many rules of law, there are statutory presumptions, which are default rules about what happens absent any evidence to the contrary. Marital property law has a couple of statutory presumptions. The first presumption is that, absent any evidence to the contrary, property acquired after the date of marriage is marital property. Evidence to the contrary would be evidence of the exceptions alluded to in the first paragraph of this blog. The second presumption is that any property acquired before the marriage is non-marital property, meaning your spouse cannot reach that asset unless she/he can prove that this property is now marital property. This sometimes happens with mingling of assets, and there are a number of exceptions here. The idea that a spouse can reach assets you acquired before marriage is probably one of the most frustrating and least intuitive ideas in the law here.
In a recent case, called Cooper v. Cooper, two spouses were litigating over three very large assets. One of those assets was a small business bought a year after the marriage and titled in husband and wife’s name. The husband said, but gave no other proof that, he had paid for the business with an asset that he had before marriage and therefore the business was his separate, non-marital property. Other than his word, he offered nothing however, and the Court can choose to believe or not believe what he proffers here. Without documentation, the Court would probably be less likely to do so. Because of his failure to provide the necessary evidence to the contrary, the presumption fell in Wife’s favor, and the asset was distributed evenly. In other words, because the business was bought during the marriage, the presumption was that it was equally the property of Husband and Wife. Therefore husband had to split the property with wife rather than take it as his own, which he might have been able to do had he offered better evidence and tipped the presumption.
BOTTOM LINE: Good evidence is important always, but more important when you need to overcome the presumption that something is a marital asset.