Definition of Community Property

Community property is everything that a husband and wife own together. For example, if a couple lives in a community property state, such as California, all of the money the couple earns from the date of their marriage to the date of separation or divorce is considered “community property.” Additionally, if the couple acquires additional property during the marriage with community money, it is considered the property of both spouses, regardless of who made the purchase. Debts generated during the marriage are also considered community property. For example, all debts acquired from the date of the marriage until the date of the divorce are the responsibility of each spouse and are considered community debts.

In a community property state there can also be separate property, and this property does not have to be divided during divorce. Property recognized as separate property includes any property the spouses owned prior to the marriage, property or money which was inherited or received as a gift during the marriage, and any income either spouse earned after the date of separation. Community property states also allow for the separation of debts which were incurred prior to the marriage. This can include educational loans or job training loans generated prior to the marriage.

Community property states differ from common law states, which allow that all property acquired by one spouse belongs to that spouse unless the spouse puts the property in the name of both partners. Currently there are nine community property states: Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin. Alaska is an opt-in community property state. Talk to a divorce lawyer if you have questions about what property you can keep after divorce.

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