In a Rhode Island divorce you may not have heard of the "Doctrine of Transmutation." Yet it's something you definitely want to know about or at least something you do not want to be surprised by.
The doctrine of transmutation applies in a divorce when non-tangible property is dropped into the tangible estate when a non-financial asset that is in the name of one spouse is transferred jointly into the name of both spouses.
The court will generally deem this asset to have been transferred into a marginal asset absent clear and convincing evidence to the contrary.
The doctrine would come into effect, for instance, where you have a Rhode Island Divorce and there is a piece of real estate that the wife purchased with inherited monies and wanted to keep separate from her husband, however she had her husband's name added to the deed during the marriage.
A spouse wishing to combat the doctrine of transmutation can usually expect substantive resistance in court because the doctrine of transmutation has been held to be consistent with the idea that marriage is a partnership and therefore the intention by the transfer into joint names embodies the notice that the transferring party intended both parties to share equally in the asset. See Hurley v. Hurley , 610 A2d 80 (RI 1992); and see Quinn v. Quinn , 512 A2d 848 (RI 1986).
It is an interesting doctrine in that, if the wife then caused the "transmutation" or … change of character in the property such that she permanently changed it to a property that her husband also had an interest in. . . then no single act by her can remove that interest. In essence the wife changed the property from what might have arguably had been "pre-tangible" real estate to one that is now part of the tangible estate and and is subject to division by the Rhode Island family court whether she likes it or not.
While this doctrine may seem to be quite obvious, it can be a bit more complex in its underlying tones. It is very easy for laypeople and even casual advocates practicing in family law to misuse the doctrine. For those attorneys who do use it, either poorly or out of context you should make sure that you and / or your chosen attorney are aware of the defenses that can be used and which may differ the claim of the doctrine.