A matrimonial regime is a collection of civil laws pertaining to property ownership for married couples, and the term can also be used to refer to a specific property ownership system. Some nations have a single default arrangement for handling marital estates, while others ask couples to choose between several choices. Couples can choose to override the matrimonial regime by establishing a prenuptial agreement to specify the way they want their estates to be handled. This may be advised in cases where property brought to the marriage is extensive, or there are concerns about willing property to children of prior marriages in the event of death.
One system of property ownership is separate, where the parties to a marriage hold assets separately and retain their ownership of the assets through the marriage and in the event of a separation. This can make dividing an estate simple. In the event a partner dies, that person's will stipulates how the property should be divided among heirs, and a spouse can be included as an heir or listed as sole heir to the estate.
Another option is an accrual matrimonial regime, where people acquire and hold assets separately during the marriage, but they are treated as common assets after separation. This reflects the fact that the marriage makes that accrual possible; for example, someone who makes a lot of money may have been supported by the other partner while receiving an education and developing a career. In these relationships, a partner who manages the household instead of working is not left with nothing at the end of the marriage, receiving compensation for contributions made to the partnership.
In a community property matrimonial regime, all property brought to the marriage and acquired during the marriage is considered to be owned in common. When one partner dies, the other partner automatically inherits all the estate, unless specific stipulations have been made in a will. In the event of a separation and divorce, the estate will be divided, typically equally, although a couple may work out an alternate arrangement.
People preparing for marriage in a region where they will be asked to choose between marital property systems may want to consult an accountant or financial adviser. It can help to get advice both separately and as a couple, so decisions about property can be made with care and consideration. Couples may ultimately decide on a prenuptial agreement to meet their needs if they find the choices of matrimonial regime limited or unsuitable for their partnership.