Who Owns What When it Comes to Marital Property?

One of the most difficult aspects of your divorce is the division of property, especially if both parties cannot agree on who owns what. This can turn into an ugly battle if the parties do not each have some background on what constitutes which party’s property. In Arizona, the law calls for two main types of property: Community and Separate. Read on to learn more about marital property in Arizona and how hiring a family law attorney can help you address these concerns as effectively as possible when you file for divorce. Since this division can influence your future so dramatically, you need someone who is committed to helping you.

Community Property

One of the most important things to understand about the division of assets and property in Arizona is the concept of community property. The phrase “community property” means that property acquired during the marriage is owned equally by the spouses together. This usually means all earnings, property purchased using said earnings, and any debts accumulated over the course of the marriage. This timeline starts when the marriage begins and terminates upon the service of a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage or Legal Separation of Marriage that results in a final Decree.

Property owned by an individual spouse prior to the marriage is considered the property of that spouse, although an individual does have the choice to transfer individual property over to community property. It is also common for spouses to commingle separate and community property, such as funds acquired prior to the marriage being put into the joint bank account. It is, therefore, crucial, to provide as much history and background about your assets and debts to a family law attorney so that these commingling issues can be addressed appropriately.

The following property counts as community in a marriage:

  • Things purchased with money earned by either spouse while the parties were married
  • Separate property commingled with community property so that it cannot be separately identified
  • Separate property transferred to the community
  • Money each spouse earned during the course of the marriage

What Counts as Separate Property?

Property owned by one person before the marriage is separate property, and this includes:

  • Property inherited by only one spouse
  • Property given to just one spouse before the marriage or during the marriage
  • Property owned by only one spouse before the marriage.

Even in the above-noted examples, there may be a “Community Interest” in such separate assets if, for example, community money was used to improve or sustain the property during the course of the marriage.

Division of Community Property

Separate property is given to the spouse who owns it if the parties decide to divorce. Community property, however, is usually divided evenly between both spouses. Sometimes this means that particular assets will belong to only one spouse, like a home, such that the property division is relatively equal. The other spouse in this situation might instead receive different property, or cash, called an “equalization payment”,  to make for an equal split, since it is not possible to split a house down the middle unless both parties agree to sell it and split the proceeds.

There are some exceptions to equal division, including:

  • When a spouse misappropriates or destroys community property either prior to or during a divorce
  • Certain aspects of a personal injury award, which belongs to both parties during the marriage but will be awarded to the injured spouse on divorce

If you want to learn more about community property and how this affects your Arizona divorce, hire an experienced family law attorney to help you. Getting help sooner rather than later can reduce a lot of the anxiety associated with going through a divorce.


This blog should be used for informational purposes only. It does not create an attorney-client relationship with any reader and should not be construed as legal advice. If you need legal advice, please feel free to contact Lindsay A.M. Olivarez at 480.461.5300, log on to udallshumway.com, or contact an attorney in your area. Udall Shumway PLC is located in Mesa, Arizona and is a full service law firm. We assist Individuals, families, businesses, schools and municipalities in Mesa and the Phoenix/East Valley.