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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.
Community Property States and Territories
Community property states and territories in the U.S. include the following:
- New Mexico
- Wisconsin state law contains features of community property in its state marital law
- Alaska allows individuals to “opt in” by signing a community property agreement which then treats marital property as shared community property
- Puerto Rico also allows for marital property to be held jointly as community 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.
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. </div>
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