What Is Community Property?

Everyone launching into the world of marriage or divorce in Arizona should know what community property is and what the law regarding community property says. Not only will it prevent misunderstandings during a happy marriage, it can also make dealing with separation and divorce less confusing.

Arizona law states very clearly that “all property acquired by either husband or wife during the marriage is the community property of the husband and wife except for property that is: (1) acquired by gift, devise or descent [inheritance]; or (2) acquired after service of a petition for dissolution. . . .” This means that everything earned or purchased during the marriage, except for stuff that was given as a gift or inheritance, belongs to both parties equally.

For example, a wife recently came to my office regarding a potential divorce. She has a part-time job and makes a modest salary. Her husband is an engineer and makes substantially more. During the marriage, the husband had kept separate bank accounts and a spreadsheet where he calculated wife’s share of the household expenses, which she then paid to him from her income. Faced now with divorce, husband has clear ideas of what is “his” and what is “hers” based on who paid for it. He will soon learn that his years of keeping spreadsheets was all for nothing. Its all theirs, equally.

The reason for this is an old concept in the law, coming to us from Spain. Spanish law didn’t consider the wife and her property as belonging to the husband, and wives maintained their separate property when they married. As this has changed over the years, Arizona and other community property states have recognized that where there is a “will to community” – a decision in marriage to join together, each partner supports the other in their own way. One partner may make more money outside of the home, but the other partner supports that person by maintaining the home, caring for children or providing emotional support. Because they have come together, the money one spouse earns is considered as coming from the labor of both and equally owned by them. If there is a divorce, they both entitled to an equitable division of those assets.

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