The state that you divorce in has a major impact on how property and debt is divided in a divorce. There are 9 community property states:

  • Arizona
  • California
  • Idaho
  • Louisiana
  • Nevada
  • New Mexico
  • Texas
  • Washington
  • Wisconsin
  • Alaska, which operates as a quasi-community property state by giving divorcing couples an option to specify certain parts of their marital estate as community property.

In states that follow community property law, assets and property are owned by the "community", or your marital estate. If you are divorcing in a community property state, read on for information about how debt and property is divided.

Property in Community Property States

No matter who actually paid for the property, anything purchased between the date of marriage to the legal separation or divorce finalization, is considered to be the property of both people equally. All income, investments, real estate, businesses, bank accounts, artwork, automobiles, etc. are considered community property and must be divided equally between both parties. This does allow some financial parity for stay-at-home spouses who did not receive any income while married.

There are two exceptions to property divisions in these states:

  1. Any income or property owned before the marriage is exempt, unless the property or income becomes intermingled in a joint account or asset. For example, if the wife had a savings account prior to marriage that was then used to purchase the family home after the marriage, the savings account money and the family home are now community property. If she had kept the savings account in her name only, any amount present as the time of marriage would be exempt from community property as long as there was no intermingling.
  2. Any inheritances or gifts given to one party are exempt from community property as long as it was never intermingled, regardless of whether or not the party was married at the time of the gift or inheritance.

Debt in Community Property States

It's wise to be aware of your fiance's debt situation prior to marriage, since all debt held by one party becomes joint debt in a community property state. In addition, creditors can take property from the divorced spouse even after a divorce decree has awarded them the property if the debt owner fails to pay.

If you are marrying in a community property state, seek the advice of a family law attorney to protect yourself with a well-crafted prenuptial agreement, which can specify debt before the marriage as belonging to each party and spell out property divisions as well. If you are divorcing in a community property state, you need the help of a divorce attorney to help you navigate through the divorce process as smoothly and as financially solvent as possible. Visit for more information.