You can protect assets and family heirlooms from claims by your spouse in a divorce case if you have kept the heirlooms as your separate property during the marriage. Illinois divorce law divides property into two kinds: non-marital property and marital property. Your non-marital property is considered your separate property and will be given to you in a divorce case. Your spouse will have no claim against your non-marital property. On the other hand, marital property is divided between you and your spouse during the divorce case.
You can identify your non-marital property as follows. Any items which (1) you had from before the marriage or (2) were given to you as a gift or (3) were given to you as an inheritance, would be your non-marital property. All other items acquired during the marriage would be marital property.
Your family heirlooms would most likely be your separate non-marital property because either (1) you had them before the marriage or (2) you received them as a gift from a relative or (3) you received them as an inheritance at the death of a relative. Since the heirlooms would be your separate non-marital property, your spouse would have no claim against them and the items would be awarded to you in the divorce case.
You should be careful to keep the family heirlooms in your own name. If you somehow put your spouse’s name on the title to the heirloom, it may become marital property. In that case, your spouse would have a claim in the divorce case to the family heirloom.
Jay A. Frank is a senior divorce practitioner with Aronberg Goldgehn in Chicago. He has been selected as one of the top family-law attorneys in Illinois. With more than 35 years of experience, he focuses his practice on all aspects of Illinois family law.