Was something a gift that is exempt from equitable distribution?

In dividing marital property, North Carolina courts will apply the legal doctrine of equitable distribution rather than splitting everything that both spouses own right down the middle. The first step in the process is identifying what is marital property.

Typically, gifts are not marital property. Whether something is a gift may be debatable. Here are some factors to consider about when it would be appropriate to categorize something as a gift subject to equitable distribution.

Exclusive use

If a spouse receives an item that only he or she can use, a court will normally deem that item to be a gift. For example, if one spouse gives another something for personal and exclusive use such as a watch or jewelry, it is probably a gift.


For the most part, inheritances are gifts. If one spouse inherits assets, they will likely remain his or her sole property.


Legal title to certain property such as a house or a car may be in only one spouse’s name. A person may argue that having sole title to something shows that he or she received it as a gift. However, the title being in one person’s name does not necessarily prove that it was a gift. If both spouses used the item, it may be property.

Courts will apply legal guidelines consistently when evaluating what property to divide during divorce proceedings. However, they recognize that every couple’s situation is unique. They will assess all relevant evidence to determine if the property was a gift.