In Michigan, the question of “who gets the cabin?” is answered by asking who owned it first. There are other questions that must be answered as well, such as: Was the cabin in one person’s possession before the marriage? Did the other spouse contribute to the cabin’s value, maintenance or improvement? Was the cabin part of an inheritance?
Understanding Michigan marital asset division
If you purchased a vacation property on your own, and then improved it over the years and you used joint funds to do this, the property may be viewed by the courts as joint.
Any joint property that accrued value will likely be assessed at the current market value when dividing assets. So if you bought the cabin on a remote lake for $70,000 over 20 years ago, but now the cabin is in a great location and has been markedly improved, don’t expect that the cabin will still be valued at $70,000.
If you and your spouse merged all of your personal assets after marriage, then all of those assets are typically viewed as marital or jointly owned. If you signed paperwork that made your spouse co-owner of your lake cabin, hunting retreat or ski lodge, that property legally belongs to you both.
What about inherited property?
In most cases, inherited assets are separate from marital assets and belong solely to the person who inherited them. If you inherited the cabin before the marriage and the cabin is and always has been in your name only, most courts will agree that the cabin is yours. If you inherited the cabin during your marriage, you might also be able to keep it. But if you had or inherited the cabin before your marriage but then used joint funds to maintain and improve it and pay taxes and other costs related to upkeep, it is likely to be viewed as a joint asset.
If the cabin is a joint asset but you strongly wish to keep it, then you may have to be willing to give up another property or asset to do this as property is divided.
Equitable distribution does not necessarily mean 50-50 or equal. This is why it is important to use experts and a trusted family law attorney who does regular work in asset distribution to help guide this process.