Community Property and Equitable Distribution Differences

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What is Community Property?

Community property is a concept that is often employed in some divorce or legal separation cases.  When property is divided between the parties, the court needs to determine who owns which property.  Under community state property laws, property that is gained by the couple during the course of their marriage is considered “community property” or “shared property”.  This property will typically be split evenly between the parties.

Community property is then set in contrast to separate property, which is property that is owned individually by one spouse (such as property obtained as a gift before marriage).  Separate property is generally retained fully by the owning party upon completion of the divorce.

How Does Community Property Compare With “Equitable Distribution”?

Some states allow for what is called “equitable distribution of property” in a divorce proceeding.  Unlike community property rules, equitable distribution incorporates more factors and variables for determining the division of property between the parties. 

For instance, equitable distribution may consider aspects of property ownership such as:

Thus, equitable distribution is often preferred as a more “natural” and “fair” way to divide the property.  However, it can be more complex and may require more involved analysis. 

Community property rulings tend to be more rigid, and may actually involve set formulas for dividing property.  However, this also makes them more simple and straight-forward.  For both community property and equitable distribution of property, marital misconduct is generally not a central point of focus when determining rights to property. 

When is Each Type of Property Distribution Method Used?

The use of community property rules vs. equitable distribution depends on the state laws and statutes.  Some states follow one set of rules, while another state may follow a much different set of laws. 

For instance, community property laws in Washington state may be very different from the community property laws in Texas or in California.  You may need to contact a lawyer if you need help determining which rules would apply in your case.  Also, many divorce cases are examined on a case-by-case basis as each filing involves unique facts and circumstances.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Help With Property Distribution in a Divorce Proceeding?

Community property and equitable distribution are very different legal concepts that can greatly affect the outcome of a divorce case.  These can often make the case very complex, and will generally require the assistance of a lawyer.  You may wish to hire a lawyer if you need help with the filing and processing of a divorce claim.  Your family law attorney will be available to provide you with legal information and guidance for your divorce filing. 

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Last Modified: 08-26-2014 03:14 PM PDT

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