The Law of Community Property, Part 3

Part three of a four part series.

Monday, August 3, 2015 | 8:03 pm

In the last article in this series I described both the origins of community property as well as the rationale for adoption in eight states. What exactly is community property and how is it determined in California?

In California community property is anything which is acquired by the personal efforts of a spouse or registered domestic partner between the date of the marriage/registration and the date that the union is permanently terminated through irreconcilable differences, better known as the date of separation. It is important to remember that community property is only created between a married couple or registered domestic partners. Community property is not created between two individuals who reside together no matter how long they hold themselves out as partner’s. Common law marriage was abolished in California in 1895. The only way to create community property in California is to enter into a marriage or a registered domestic partnership.

Once two individuals marry or become registered domestic partners, then everything which either individual earns after that date is automatically community property. This would obviously include money earned employment. But community does not stop there. Community property is anything which is acquired through the work of an individual during marriage or partnership. So it would include contributions to an individual’s retirement plans, lottery winnings when the ticket was purchased with earned money, frequent flyer mileage, reward points on credit cards and on and on. Simply put, community property is anything which has value and was received through personal efforts of a spouse or partner.

Not everything received during a marriage or partnership is community property. If a spouse or partner receives something of value which does not originate from their efforts it is not community property, it is that spouse’s or partner’s separate property. As an example if a spouse or partner receives income from investments owned before the marriage or registration, then that income would be separate property. Likewise gifts or inheritances received by a spouse or partner are not community property.

In the next article I will discuss the advantages of community property and its role in divorce, probate and taxes.

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