Communal Property Lawyers

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Most Common Family Law Issues:

What is Communal Property?

In a divorce context, “Communal Property” refers to property that is acquired during the course of the couple’s marriage.  It usually does not include property that was obtained before marriage, as a gift to an individual spouse, or property acquired after divorce hearings have been initiated.

Some states follow principles of “community property”, meaning that the communal property will be divided equally between the spouses upon divorce.  Non-community property states may have different rules that govern the distribution of communal property.

The term “communal property” is also known as “marital property”, “shared property”, or “community property”.  The term communal property should not be confused with its other usage, wherein it refers to property that is collectively owned by the government.  When dealing with family law issues, communal property always refers to marital property.

What is the Difference between Communal Property and Separate Property?

The difference between communal property and separate property becomes evident upon divorce when the property must be divided between the two parties.  If property is classified as communal property or community property, each party will own an undivided one-half interest in the property.  For example, if the couple’s car is considered to be communal property, it will likely be sold, with each partner receiving exactly half of the profits. 

On the other hand, separate property will be fully distributed to its rightful owner, with no proceeds going to the other spouse at all.  For example, if one spouse received a valuable painting as a gift from a relative, they will be entitled to keep the painting or its proceeds from a sale upon divorce.  However, the owner of the painting must be able to prove that the painting was intended to be given solely to them as a gift, and not as a gift to both spouses. 

The line dividing communal property and separate property is sometimes difficult to define.  This is especially true if the couple has been married for a long time and can no longer document the origin of the property.  Some states also follow quasi-community property principles, which deal with property distributions if the couple has moved from a community property state to a non-community property state, and vice versa. 

Are the Laws Governing Communal Property the Same for Each State?

No.  As mentioned, some states enforce community property laws, while other states do not follow such principles.  9 of the 50 states are community property states:  AZ, CA, ID, LA, NV, NM, TX, WA, and WI.  The rest are considered to be non-community property states.

Finally, no two community property states have exactly the same laws.  So for example, Arizona and California laws regulate property distribution differently, even though are both considered to be “community property states”.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Legal Issues with Communal Property?

Divorce proceedings can often be complex, especially with regards to property distributions.  If you have questions or concerns regarding communal property distributions in a divorce, you should contact a lawyer for advice.  Your attorney will be able to advise you regarding the distribution of the various items of property you are dealing with.  Again, divorce laws are very different for each region, so it may be necessary to contact a lawyer who is familiar with the laws of your area.  

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Last Modified: 06-28-2011 02:44 PM PDT

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