Getting married isn’t just about having a party with family and friends. It’s a commitment to each other and each other’s property. Some property is shared, known as community property, while other items or money remain the sole property of one spouse, also known as separate property.

What’s the difference between community property and separate property?

Generally speaking, community property, also called marital property, is earned or acquired during the marriage. Money earned and put into a joint checking account and items purchased with that money are all considered marital property. It becomes a gray area when the account belongs to one person but both use it for deposits and purchases. Separate property was owned or acquired by one spouse prior to the marriage and may include:

• Property purchased or acquired that is never used to benefit the other spouse

• Gifts or inheritances received

• Property that is agreed to by both spouses to be separate

• Certain personal injury awards

The definition of community property and separate property varies by state. In Arizona, for example, the marital property ownership system is community property.

What does community property mean?

In Arizona, community property includes all assets and debts a couple accumulates during the course of the marriage. Property owned by one spouse before the marriage or acquired as a gift remains that spouse’s property in divorce as long as they can prove it is theirs with written documentation.

It gets tricky when property is transferred into and out of joint ownership throughout the course of the marriage. A common example is when one spouse owns a home and then adds the other spouse as an owner. The home has gone from separate to community property.

Because of these and other gray areas in the law, we suggest you consult with a family law attorney who can help you identify, value, and divide marital property. Contact Stuart and Blackwell to learn how we can help.