When it comes to marital property law, American states mostly follow one of two schemes: community property or fair and equitable division. These laws decide how property is classified during a marriage, and most importantly how it will be divided for through either divorce or after death through probate.
But what happens when a couple is married and acquires property in a non-community property state, but then move to a state where community property is law? This is where the quasi community property method comes into play. Here is a short guide to what it is and how it works.
When a couple acquires property in a non-community property state and then moves to a community property state, the court treats all of the property that would be classified as community in the latter as such.
Essentially, if the property would be community property if they had been living in a state that followed that scheme, then the court treats it as such, and separate property as separate under the same scheme. This is a legal “fiction” (meaning this is how it was decided by the court) that the courts adopt to split property acquired out of state in a divorce or in probate division.
Louisiana, Arizona, California, Texas, Washington, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, and Wisconsin are the states that follow the community property division method. In this system, all property including real property, income, and any other earnings acquired during the marriage are deemed to be equally owned by each spouse.
When a couple gets a divorce, all of this community marital property is divided 50/50. In divorce proceedings, all property deemed quasi community property is treated as if it is community property for division purposes. So even though the property was acquired out of state, it will still be divided 50/50 when the divorce is finalized.
The rules for dividing quasi community property after one spouse dies are a little more complicated, and does not entirely follow the rules of probate distribution in a community property jurisdiction.
After a spouse dies, 1/2 of the deceased’s quasi community property belongs to the surviving spouse, and the other half to the deceased spouse (their legal heirs). The same is not true for the surviving spouse. The surviving spouse’s quasi community property belongs to only the surviving spouse.
The goal here is to make that the deceased spouse has no ability to give his or her interest in the surviving spouse’s separate property that would be considered quasi community property due to it being acquired in another state.
So, if all of the property (both separate and community) is technically called quasi community property, then that does not mean the heirs (that are not the surviving spouse) get a portion of the property that is essentially separate property, but classified as quasi community property under the circumstances. The idea behind this is to protect the spouse that acquired the property from having whatever he or she left behind from disposed of against their wishes.
It is important to note that these rules only apply if someone dies without a will, also known as dying intestate. Then, each state has their own laws dictating how property is divided and distributed. If you have a valid will in place at the time of your death, then this will not apply. You are free to distribute your property however you want.
In some cases, yes. The general rule of quasi community property law states that during a marriage, any such property is treated as community property. This community property classification sadly means that creditors of the non-acquiring spouse can place liens on and otherwise have access to have access to the acquiring spouse’s “separate” assets until the marriage is dissolved or one spouse passes away.
This is a controversial rule, and some states have authored legislation to help protect these spouses if such a circumstance arises. Remember that this is only during the marriage.
Yes. Divorces and probate matters are incredibly stressful times under the best of circumstances, and adding the complicating element of dealing with quasi community property only makes things worse.
If you are dealing with a divorce where quasi community property might be an issue, seek the services of an experienced family law attorney in your jurisdiction to help guide you through the process. The same goes for probate matters. An attorney well-versed in estate law matters can help you navigate how property should be classified and divided during probate proceedings.