Divorce From Hell: Is the Property I Inherit Considered Separate or Marital Property?

The problems in John and Mary Dineley’s marriage began when their second son died.  Men in that day (early 18th century) placed a great deal of importance on having a son to carry on their name.  John was a man who would become irate if his wife helped the servant milk the cows or worked in the kitchen.  And it was soon after the child’s death that he began assaulting Mary.  He kicked her out into the street on one of the coldest nights of the year, and then he threw out the nanny and their other son Edward.

His cruel behavior drove Mary into the arms of another man.  It also drove her to drink.  Drinking made her careless in her efforts to conceal her extramarital relationship, and she would sometimes allow her companion to spend the night in the home she shared with John.  As rumors of her fling began spreading around town, John began chaining her in the cellar to keep track of her whereabouts.  (She might have been suffocated during one of these episodes if the servants had not rescued her.)

Mary finally had enough and filed for separation and divorce.  The legal battle lasted nine years and cost John his family fortune.  While the litigation was pending, John set out to starve Mary.  But the court put him in jail for four months for failing to pay her debts.  Later, Mary was imprisoned for one year for conspiracy to falsely accuse John of committing murder.

John also launched an attack against Mary regarding the paternity of their son.  He did this to spite Mary and to ensure that his brother would not receive any of the family fortune.  (There was a provision in in John’s parents’ will that his brother would receive the bulk of the family’s inheritance if John had a male heir.)

John bribed his son, Edward, into signing the documents ensuring that his brother would not inherit the family’s sizable estate.  But, John had not counted on his brother being as greedy as he, and more determined.  John’s brother murdered him before the divorce was granted and Mary ended up with her husband’s fortune, at least what was left of it after both their legal fees.

Under current North Carolina law, as a general rule, any property that a spouse inherits will be classified as his or her separate property and will not be subject to property division at the time of their divorce.


Excerpt from Divorces from Hell Copyright (c) 1995 by Jacqueline D. Stanley


Photo Credit:  Visual Hunt

Posted in Divorce From Hell.

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