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Compare states' community property laws in divorce

Assets and debts are shared in these states, but each has wrinkles

By Tyler Metzger and Marcia Frellick

If your name's not on a debt, you don't have to worry about it when you get a divorce, right? Think again. In 10 states, so-called "community property" laws mean that you could be responsible for your ex's debts, even if they were solely in his or her name.

The interactive map below shows details on the laws in all 10 states. Click on a blue-colored state; its law's highlights will appear below the map.

Community property laws by state

Ten states have community property laws that determine how debt and possessions are divided in a divorce.

Alaska

Is opting-in mandatory?
Yes

When is the marriage over?
For most assets and debts, at the time of separation. For real property, at the final hearing.

Does the state recognize common law marriage?
Only if established elsewhere

Is there a residency requirement for the person filing for divorce?
Yes. Proof of residency and intent to remain indefinitely must be provided.

Is income from seperate property considered community property?
No

How is debt divided?
Equitably

How is community property divided?
Equitably

Is property acquired in a non-community property state considered property?
No clear law has been set

What could warrant uneven distribution of community property or debt?
Disproportionate earning capacity, age and health of parties and need for the martial residence

Arizona

Is opting-in mandatory?
No

When is the marriage over?
Date of dissolution

Does the state recognize common law marriage?
Only if established elsewhere

Is there a residency requirement for the person filing for divorce?
Yes, 90 days

Is income from seperate property considered community property?
No

How is debt divided?
Equitably

How is community property divided?
Equitably

Is property acquired in a non-community property state considered property?
Yes

What could warrant uneven distribution of community property or debt?
Excessive expenditures by one spouse, destruction of property and hiding assets

California

Is opting-in mandatory?
No

When is the marriage over?
Date of separation

Does the state recognize common law marriage?
Only if established elsewhere

Is there a residency requirement for the person filing for divorce?
Yes, six months

Is income from seperate property considered community property?
No

How is debt divided?
Equally

How is community property divided?
Equally

Is property acquired in a non-community property state considered property?
Yes

What could warrant uneven distribution of community property or debt?
Marital waste, hiding assets, disproportionate earning capacity

Idaho

Is opting-in mandatory?
No

When is the marriage over?
When the decree is signed and the order is entered

Does the state recognize common law marriage?
Only if the union was created on or before January 1996 in Idaho or elsewhere

Is there a residency requirement for the person filing for divorce?
Yes, generally six weeks

Is income from seperate property considered community property?
Yes

How is debt divided?
Equitably

How is community property divided?
Equitably

Is property acquired in a non-community property state considered property?
Yes

What could warrant uneven distribution of community property or debt?
Marital waste, mismanagement of funds, unequal financial positions or earning capacity

Louisiana

Is opting-in mandatory?
No

When is the marriage over?
The date the divorce is filed

Does the state recognize common law marriage?
Only if established elsewhere

Is there a residency requirement for the person filing for divorce?
Yes. Need to prove residence with intent to remain

Is income from seperate property considered community property?
Yes

How is debt divided?
Equally

How is community property divided?
Equally

Is property acquired in a non-community property state considered property?
Yes

What could warrant uneven distribution of community property or debt?
Mismanagement of funds

Nevada

Is opting-in mandatory?
No

When is the marriage over?
Date of dissolution. Either the final date of trial or the date agreed upon by parties

Does the state recognize common law marriage?
Only if established elsewhere

Is there a residency requirement for the person filing for divorce?
Yes, six weeks

Is income from seperate property considered community property?
No

How is debt divided?
Equally

How is community property divided?
Equally

Is property acquired in a non-community property state considered property?
No clear law has been set.

What could warrant uneven distribution of community property or debt?
Marital waste, misuse of funds

New Mexico

Is opting-in mandatory?
No

When is the marriage over?
When the divorce decree is signed

Does the state recognize common law marriage?
Only if established elsewhere

Is there a residency requirement for the person filing for divorce?
Yes, six months

Is income from seperate property considered community property?
No

How is debt divided?
Equitably

How is community property divided?
Equitably

Is property acquired in a non-community property state considered property?
Yes

What could warrant uneven distribution of community property or debt?
Marital waste and mismanagement of funds

Texas

Is opting-in mandatory?
No

When is the marriage over?
When the divorce decree is signed

Does the state recognize common law marriage?
Yes

Is there a residency requirement for the person filing for divorce?
Yes, six months

Is income from seperate property considered community property?
Yes

How is debt divided?
Equitably

How is community property divided?
Equitably

Is property acquired in a non-community property state considered property?
Yes

What could warrant uneven distribution of community property or debt?
Needs of children, unequal financial positions or earning capacity and fault in breakup of marriage

Washington

Is opting-in mandatory?
No

When is the marriage over?
When the parties are living separately with no intent to reconcile

Does the state recognize common law marriage?
Not unless it was established elsewhere

Is there a residency requirement for the person filing for divorce?
Yes, but there is no set time requirement

Is income from seperate property considered community property?
No

How is debt divided?
Equitably

How is community property divided?
Equitably

Is property acquired in a non-community property state considered property?
Yes

What could warrant uneven distribution of community property or debt?
Unequal earning capacity, marital waste and needs of children. In Washington, separate property -- generally property acquired before marriage -- may be awarded to the other spouse in rare instances.

Wisconsin

Is opting-in mandatory?
No

When is the marriage over?
The date of the final decree

Does the state recognize common law marriage?
Only if established elsewhere

Is there a residency requirement for the person filing for divorce?
Yes, six months

Is income from seperate property considered community property?
No

How is debt divided?
Equitably

How is community property divided?
Equitably

Is property acquired in a non-community property state considered property?
No

What could warrant uneven distribution of community property or debt?
Marital waste

See related: 8 things cardholders should know about community property laws, Advice on dividing up, paying off debt after divorce

Updated: March 22, 2011



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