But I Bought It with My Own Money and It’s in My Name!

A central concept in New Mexico family law is that the way property is titled does not necessarily dictate who owns it, at least where spouses are concerned. This can be a difficult concept to come to terms with. Often, people understand it, but they don’t want to believe it.

Outside of inheritances and gifts, New Mexico law has a strong presumption that property acquired during the marriage is owned by the “community” of both spouses. That means that if the couple later divorces, both parties have an ownership right to be divided by the court.

The presumption of community property is so strong that it can overcome many factors, such as the following:

  • how the property is titled;
  • the partial use of separate funds to pay for the item; and
  • inconsistent use of the item by both parties.

A New Mexico Court of Appeals case illustrates the strength of the community property presumption. In Macias v. Macias, the wife inherited an undivided one-third interest in her mother’s home while she was married to her husband. Her two sisters inherited the remaining two-thirds interest in the house. The husband and wife purchased the sisters’ interest in the house, secured a mortgage on the house to pay them, moved into the house, and used it as their home.

When the couple later divorced, the wife claimed that she owned one-third of the property as separate property; she believed that she should receive her one-third interest and that only the remaining two-thirds should be treated by the court as community property.

The husband argued that the evidence supported the wife’s intent to treat the one-third interest as community property:

  • the parties had taken a joint mortgage on the entire house;
  • the parties used community funds to pay for the loan;
  • the parties used community funds to pay for maintenance and property taxes.

The husband also argued that if the wife had intended to retain the one-third interest as her sole and separate property, she should have told him that or executed a written agreement to that effect.

The trial court found that the entire house was community property. However, the appellate court disagreed. It therefore remanded the case to the trial court for further action. The court held that the wife had no obligation to “protest or explain” and that she “was not legally obliged” to prepare a written agreement regarding her intentions.

An experienced New Mexico family lawyer can help you understand what to expect when you’re moving toward dissolution of your marriage. If you have questions, contact the Lightning Legal Group. We know that many questions arise when you’re navigating a marital dissolution, and we’ll help you find your way. Contact us today at (505) 247-2390 for experienced legal advice.

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