community property

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Community Property

The holdings and resources owned in common by a Husband and Wife.

Community Property Law concerns the distribution of property acquired by a couple during marriage in the event of the end of the marriage, whether by Divorce or death of one of the parties. In community property states all property accumulated by a husband and wife during their marriage becomes joint property even if it was originally acquired in the name of only one partner. The states that utilize a community property method of dividing resources were influenced by the Civil Law system of France, Spain, and Mexico.

Laws vary among the states that recognize community property; however, the basic idea is that a husband and wife each acquire a one-half interest in what is labeled community property. A determining factor in the classification of a particular asset as community property is the time of acquisition. Community property is ordinarily defined as everything the couple owns that is acquired during the marriage with the exception of separate property owned by either of them individually. Separate property is that property that each individual brings into the marriage, in addition to anything that either spouse acquires by inheritance during the marriage.

Generally, four types of property acquired after marriage amount to community property: earnings, damages obtained from a personal injury suit, damages awarded in an industrial accident action, and rents and profits from separate property.


In many community property law states, a husband and wife may enter into a Premarital Agreement that there will be no community property. Divorce terminates the community relationship in all community property states; however, the manner in which the property is divided differs.

Upon the dissolution of a marriage, the source of property becomes important in determining whether an asset is community or separate property. Ordinarily, separate property includes that which is acquired through gift, Descent and Distribution, and devise or bequest. Each partner in a Property Settlement reacquires whatever he or she owned prior to the marriage.

In some states, community property is divided equally; in others, the division is based on the court's discretion. In certain jurisdictions, the guilt of a spouse in a divorce action can be a factor in reducing his or her share of the community property.

Inheritance Laws

Each spouse owns one-half of the couple's property in community property states, and, therefore, when a husband or wife dies only one-half of the marital property is inheritable since the surviving spouse owns in his or her own right one-half of the marital property.

West's Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

community property

n. property and profits received by a husband and wife during the marriage, with the exception of inheritances, specific gifts to one of the spouses, and property and profits clearly traceable to property owned before marriage, all of which is separate property. Community property is a concept which began in Spain to protect rich women from losing everything to profligate husbands, and is only officially recognized in some states which were once under or influenced by Spanish or Mexican control, including California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Nevada, Idaho, Washington and Louisiana. Community property recognizes the equal contribution of both parties to the marriage even though one or the other may earn more income through employment. By agreement or action the married couple can turn (transmute) separate property into community property, including by commingling community and separate funds in one account. Community property is recognized based on fact or agreement of the parties, rather than holding of title. The state courts have wavered on what constitutes proof of community property, including the issue of whether joint tenancy is evidence of community property or not. Many states have adopted statutes which provide for equal distribution which parallel the community property system. Upon the death of one spouse all the community property goes to the other except in Texas surviving children get one half and in obvious sexual discrimination Nevada and New Mexico allow the husband to will a half to someone other than his wife. (See: separate property, descent, descent and distribution)

Copyright © 1981-2005 by Gerald N. Hill and Kathleen T. Hill. All Right reserved.

community property

in some of the states of the USA and elsewhere in the world, there is a form of implied partnership in the profits resulting from a marriage. Premarital property remains the individual property of each party, but property acquired during the marriage is common property. A similar result obtains in the UK on divorce.
Collins Dictionary of Law © W.J. Stewart, 2006
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