What Is “Community Property”?

Community property refers to all assets and debts accumulated during a marriage.  So, essentially, anything you buy from the day you get married until the day a divorce is granted is community property and therefore both spouses own undivided 1/2 interest.  The courts will assume that anything you acquire during the marriage is community property unless it is proven otherwise.  This applies regardless of who paid for the asset (except under certain circumstances), whose name the property is in, or whether the other spouse ever contributed anything to pay for the asset.  If, for example, a husband and wife buy a house while married, finance it entirely in the husband’s name, list the deed in the husband’s name only, and the husband makes every single house payment, it is still considered community property and the wife owns 1/2.  The major exceptions to this rule are property you inherit during the marriage or property you purchased using separate property funds.  So, for example, if the wife inherits her father’s car, the car is her separate property, even if she received it during the marriage.  If the husband receives money from a personal injury settlement or from the sale of separate property or an inheritance and uses that money (and ONLY that money) to buy property, then that property is also separate property.  The issue can get more complicated if separate property money and community property money are put into the same bank accounts (called “commingling”).  If you are planning to get married and already own significant assets, it would be wise to consult an attorney for advice beforehand.

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