Community Property

I AM GOING THROUGH A DIVORCE. THE LAWYERS ARE ARGUING ABOUT WHO GETS WHAT PROPERTY, AND ARE CONSTANTLY TALKING ABOUT “COMMUNITY” PROPERTY. WHAT IS THAT?

Community property is pretty much any asset or debt that either spouse acquires, from the date the spouses are legally married, until the date the spouses separate.

Confused? You are not alone. The concept of community property is so confusing, that it often escapes the understanding of lawyers as well as non-lawyers.

This is probably because understanding it requires a journey into a ridiculous fiction called “California Family Law.” In this realm of smoke and mirrors, neither the term “community,” nor the term “property,” mean the same thing they do in the real world.

(1) What is a “Community?”

When two people get married, something in California Family Law goes “POOF!” and the two spouses suddenly disappear. A new and entirely imaginary person appears instead, and replaces both spouses. This new “person” is called the “community.”

The community begins when the marriage begins. It ends basically when the marriage ends, whether by death or divorce.

Notwithstanding that the community is entirely mythical, the law in many ways treats it as if it were a real person. Herein lies the ridiculous fiction.

(2) What Is “Property?”

As we travel further into the fiction of California Family Law, we discover that other words also have new or twisted meanings. For example, “property” refers not only to assets, but also to debts.
Fortunately, the words “assets” and “debts” still appear to retain the meaning they have in the real world. Assets still include such things as: money; real estate; personal items; and, just about any other right, option or thing that can be bought and sold. Debts still include such things as: outstanding loans; duties to perform under a contract; and, any other legally recognized obligation.

(3) Okay, so what is “Community Property?”

After the spouses are legally married, if one of the spouses acquires an asset, … Oops! That would be impossible, of course, because the “spouse” no longer legally exists. Only the community exists. Therefore, if either spouse acquires an asset, only the community, not the spouse, legally acquires the asset.

The same rule applies to debts or obligations acquired by a spouse. Since the spouse no longer legally exists, the community, not the spouse, legally acquires the debt or obligation.


CRAIG A. CANDELORE is the managing attorney at the Men’s Legal Center.


The above article is intended for informational purposes only, and is not to be construed as legal advice for any purpose. Due to the intense personal nature of any legal issue, it is important that you consult with appropriate legal counsel to ensure your issues are addressed appropriately.