In a divorce or legal separation, courts often classify property as either separate or community property. After the divorce proceeding is concluded and a ruling has been reached, separate property is retained fully by the owning party. However, community property assets may be subject to an equal, 50-50 split between the parties. 

Community property assets are typically defined as any property or money that was obtained by the couple during the period in which they were legally married. Any property obtained during periods of legal separation is usually not considered separate property. 

What Types of Assets Are Considered Community Property?

Many different types of property items can be considered community property during a divorce. These assets may include not only real property such as a marital home, but also other assets like:

  • Shared bank account funds
  • Personal property items given to the couple as a gift
  • Property where both persons names are on the title (such as a car or boat)
  • Non-tangible assets in which both persons share an interest, including retirement plans, work benefits, stocks and other securities

Basically, most property accumulated during the marriage will ultimately be classified as community property (in the states that follow these rules). One exception is where one spouse receives a gift, wherein the giver specifically states that the gift is to be owned solely by the one spouse. Again, the idea is that each spouse is entitled to an equal share of all the assets classified as “community property.”

Do All States Follow Community Property Rules?

Many, but not all states employ community property rules. Some may apply more relaxed versions of these rules that involve “equitable distribution” principles. These types of rulings analyze other factors that might be influential in the property division process, such as the financial background, age, and employment of each party. 

For this reason, the state in which the divorce is filed can affect the way that property is distributed between the parties. Also, when a married couple moves from one state to another, they may encounter some issues in the way that their property is characterized for divorce purposes.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Help with Community Property Assets?

Any disputes or legal inquiries involving community property assets should be directed to an experienced family lawyer. You may need assistance with matters such as filing a claim, inventorying property, or interpreting state and local divorce laws. Your attorney can help you with these tasks, and can represent you during the actual court hearings.