What is Marital vs. Separate Property in Arizona?
Only marital (or referred to as “community”) property is subject to division in an Arizona divorce, so it is essential to determine what property is considered separate and what is considered marital before attempting to divide property.
Marital property includes all assets acquired by a couple from the date of their wedding to the marital cut-off, or separation date. There are limited exceptions to this rule, such as assets that were gifted to, or inherited by, one party during the marriage. Such property is considered “separate,” but may be converted into marital property by commingling, such as when a wife who inherits money from a relative deposit the funds into a joint bank account and the monies are spent jointly by the couple.
Property belonging to one party before marriage is considered separate property, as is property acquired or earned after the couple’s date of separation. However, if an asset was earned during the marriage, but paid after the date of separation, such as a performance bonus at work, it is considered marital and thus subject to division as community property. There are many nuances to what constitutes marital versus separate property and oftentimes it is not a clear-cut issue. Obtaining legal advice with respect to your particular situation is vital.
The date of separation in Arizona is the date that the other spouse is served with the divorce petition.
Couples can agree, either in a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement, or in a divorce settlement agreement, to consider certain property either marital or separate, even if an Arizona court would decide otherwise.
What does “Community Property” Mean?
Arizona is one of a minority of “community property” states. In most states, property is divided in a divorce according to principles of “equitable distribution.” Community property states divide all marital property equally between the parties, without regard to other issues. (Equitable distribution, on the other hand, strives to arrive at a division that is fair under all the circumstances, but not necessarily equal.)
In a community property state, each party is considered to own one-half of all marital property and to be responsible for one-half of all marital debt. Even if property is clearly traceable to one party, if it is acquired during the marriage (with very limited exceptions) it is community property. For example, if you open a savings account after you are married and deposit your weekly paycheck into that account during your marriage, those funds are still community property even though they were earned by you and put into an account in your sole name.
“Quasi-community property” is property that was acquired by either or both spouses (or domestic partners) while living in another state that, if it had been acquired while living in Arizona, would be considered community property. For example, if you and your spouse lived in Florida for a year during your marriage and bought furniture there, it would be quasi-community property. Quasi-community property is treated by courts as community property in an Arizona divorce.
Most divorces in Maricopa County and elsewhere in Arizona are resolved by settlement, not by trial. This means, as with many other aspects of divorce, that couples have the freedom to agree on property division between themselves rather than allow a court to divide their assets. Couples may reach agreement as to property division during their divorce or may have done so earlier in a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement.