A common question that comes up when two people get a divorce is whether they can take belongings out of a shared storage unit. The answer is not a simple yes or no, unfortunately. There are a couple of legal factors that affect your ability to remove property from a self-storage unit before or during divorce proceedings. Here's what you need to know to avoid breaking the law or causing problems with your separation.
You Can Only Extract Non-Marital Property
The only type of property you can remove from the unit without requiring the court or your spouse's permission is non-marital (also called separate) property. This is stuff that only belongs to you and is not subjected to common or community property laws.
Generally, non-marital property is anything you owned before you got married. Gifts from your spouse and inherited assets are also considered separate property and may be taken from the unit. For instance, if your spouse bought you a kayak for Christmas, you could take that item without worrying about any legal ramifications.
Items you purchased during the marriage using your own money are considered separate property. However, assets purchased using joint funds and placed in one spouse's name may be also be classified as separate if the item was never used for your spouse's benefit (e.g., personal clothing, shoes).
It's critical that you are 100 percent certain the item still belongs in the non-marital property–category. Certain things that occur during the marriage can cause separate property to be converted into marital property. One way this can happen is if you use comingled funds to improve the asset.
For example, if you used money from a joint checking account to have a valuable guitar refurbished, and this increased its worth, the courts may feel your spouse has a claim to a portion of the value of the instrument. If you have any suspicion this may be the case with a piece of property, it may be best to leave the property in the unit until the divorce is finalized.
Marital Property Must Stay Put Until the Court Approves
Unless you and your spouse agree that you may take them from the storage unit, you can't remove marital property until the court says it's okay. Marital property is generally considered anything that was purchased during the marriage. You can't remove this stuff because community property laws may mean your spouse legally owns a portion of the value of those items, and the court must determine how that value will be divided between you.
In this case, it's important to document what is still being stored in the unit. This can prevent a dishonest spouse from taking the items and denying they were in the storage facility. In addition to an itemized list, you should take pictures (or record video) of all the property in the unit in case you need to furnish proof later on.
To rent another unit to store your separate items in until you can find a more permanent place for them, contact the facility manager of a company such as Capitol City Storage for assistance.