Keeping it in the family

A number of high-profile English cases have recently shone the spotlight upon the treatment of inherited property in divorce proceedings.

Our statutes do not distinguish between inherited or other types of asset or provide for their different treatment. To a large extent, before the landmark case of White v White in 2000, there was little legal debate on this issue. Central to the issues in White was how the substantial family farm, inherited by the husband, should be treated. In his leading judgment, Lord Nicholls drew a distinction between property which has been inherited on the one hand and “matrimonial property” on the other, acquired by the parties during the marriage and to which each spouse had therefore contributed. Emphasising that the source of inherited property is wholly external to the marriage, Lord Nicholls stated “where this property still exists the spouse to whom it was given should be allowed to keep it. Conversely the other spouse has a weaker claim to such property than he or she may have regarding the matrimonial property”…

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