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What Does “Community Property State” Mean?

The phrase "community property state" describes the way property is defined and divided during divorce. You will likely hear the phrase often during the process of dissolving your marriage. This term refers to you and your spouse's equal, undivided interests in and to all of your marital property. All property accumulated by either spouse from the date of marriage to the date of separation is considered community property.

As a general rule, when you divorce in a community property state such as California, you are each entitled to one-half of the value of each item of community property, as well as to one-half of the value of any community interest in you or your spouse's separate property.

Examples of Community Property

Community property assets can include:

  • Marital residence
  • Second or vacation home
  • Commercial property
  • Time-shares
  • Retirement plans (401k, IRA, TSA, pension plans, including federal or military pensions)
  • Businesses
  • Bank accounts
  • Investments
  • Stock options
  • Personal property such as vehicles, recreational vehicles, campers, airplanes, collections, furniture, electronics, tools and household goods
  • Pets

In a community property state like California, the way title is held is immaterial. If either spouse, or both, acquired an asset between the date of marriage and the date of separation, it is deemed community property, and is subject to being equally divided by the court. For example, outside gifts and inheritances to a spouse are not considered part of the community estate. Therefore, it is critical that your attorney speak with you in detail about the acquisition and source of all assets that remain at the time of separation so that the assets can be properly characterized as community or separate property.

If you have questions about how California law about separate property will affect you, a knowledgeable divorce and family law attorney can provide advice and counsel.