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What is the difference between matrimonial and non-matrimonial assets?

Matrimonial assets tend to be those which have been generated or accumulated during the marriage whereas non-matrimonial assets tend to be assets which are acquired outside of the marriage such as assets owned before marriage or assets received by one party during the marriage without contribution from the other such as through inheritance or a gift.

The discretion of the court when making financial awards is wide ranging and the way the court will deal with this distinction varies from case to case so it is always important to seek advice about your particular circumstances. However, in broad principles, any asset which is “matrimonial” in nature is usually shared unless there is good reason not to. If an asset is non-matrimonial, an argument could be raised that there ought to be a departure from an equal share of the asset to reflect the fact it is from a source external to the marriage. However:

  • If financial resources are limited such that a party’s needs cannot be met without using the non-matrimonial property, the fact it is non-matrimonial will carry little weight, if any.
  • The family home is seen as core to the marriage and is often treated differently. It is invariably treated as a matrimonial asset even if it would have been non-matrimonial in nature.
  • If a non-matrimonial asset has been intermingled with a matrimonial asset, a court may place less weight on the fact it started as non-matrimonial in nature.
  • If the parties were married for a short period of time, a court may place greater weight on the fact that an asset is non-matrimonial and may be persuaded to allow a greater departure from equality than if the parties have been married for a long period of time.

The court will always have a mind to fairness and is likely to take a step back and consider whether the overall division of the assets is “fair” bearing in mind the parties respective financial and non-financial contributions to the marriage.