Community property law is normally applicable only to two people who are legally married, although it is sometimes applied to couples who have lived together for a long time. Some states have not yet enacted community property laws, and the law varies considerably among the states that have enacted them. Nevertheless, the community property laws of various states share certain features in common.
Contrary to popular opinion, you can’t marry a millionaire in a Las Vegas Chapel ‘o Love drive-thru window, pull around and get a drive-thru divorce, and pull out of the parking lot a millionaire yourself. Community property applies to all the property gained during the marriage – so the longer the marriage lasts, the better chance the richer spouse has of getting fleeced. For most couples, wages and salaries are the biggest component of community property. Pensions are also included, as are assets (such as houses and cars) bought with these funds. So if one spouse is worth ten million and the other is worth fifty cents before walking into the church for the wedding, their respective wealth is probably going to be about the same when they walk out a few hours later.
In addition to “community property”, each spouse will normally have some “separate property”. Separate property includes each spouse’s property obtained before the marriage, along with income derived from this property, even if the income is earned after the marriage (in most cases). Gifts received by one spouse only are also considered separate property. In a few states, though, family residences are considered community property even if it was a gift to one spouse and the title is in that spouse’s name only. In addition, separate property can be converted into community property by having one spouse donate his or her separate property to the couple’s community property..
The foregoing is a very simplified explanation of community property law. Keep in mind that significant differences exist among states, and that there are a lot of rules involved. This article was written to give you a rough idea of what does and does not belong to you.
DISCLAIMER: The following in intended for reference only and not as legal advice.