How does Ohio handle the distribution of gifts and inheritances in divorce?

Understanding Marital vs. Separate Property in Ohio Divorce

In the state of Ohio, when a couple goes through a divorce, their property must be divided equitably. This process is governed by Ohio Revised Code Section 3105.171, which distinguishes between marital and separate property. Gifts and inheritances are typically categorized as separate property, which means they are not subject to division in a divorce. However, there are exceptions and nuances to this rule that can significantly affect the outcome of property division.

What Qualifies as Separate Property?

Separate property includes any real or personal property that was acquired by one spouse prior to the marriage, as well as inheritances or gifts received by one spouse during the marriage. To qualify as separate property, the inheritance or gift must have been intended solely for the individual spouse and not for the marital unit as a whole.

The Commingling Factor

Despite the initial classification as separate property, gifts and inheritances can become marital property under certain circumstances. This typically occurs when separate property is commingled with marital property to such an extent that it becomes indistinguishable or is used for the benefit of both spouses. An example of this would be an inheritance from a parent that is deposited into a joint bank account and used for joint expenses or the purchase of a marital home.

Tracing Separate Property

If a spouse wishes to claim an inheritance or gift as separate property in a divorce, they must be able to trace the asset back to its original source and prove that it was intended solely for them. This can be complex, particularly if the asset has been commingled with marital funds.

Ohio Case Law and Precedents

Ohio courts have established precedents through case law regarding the treatment of gifts and inheritances in divorce proceedings. For instance, in Harmon v. Harmon, the court found that an inheritance could lose its status as separate property if it was used for the benefit of both spouses over time.

Protecting Separate Property

To ensure that gifts and inheritances remain separate property during a marriage, spouses can take several steps, including maintaining separate accounts for such assets and drafting prenuptial or postnuptial agreements that specify the treatment of future gifts or inheritances.

Equitable Distribution in Practice

In practice, Ohio's equitable distribution does not necessarily mean equal division. It means fair division based on various factors such as each spouse's earnings, contributions to marital assets, and duration of the marriage. Therefore, even though an inheritance may be considered separate property, its existence could indirectly influence how other assets are divided.


The distribution of gifts and inheritances in an Ohio divorce requires careful consideration of Ohio law and potentially complex tracing efforts to establish an asset's status as separate property. Individuals going through a divorce should seek legal advice to navigate these issues effectively.