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How does community property work?

The classification of property acquired during marriage is vital for property division and what a spouse keeps or gives up following divorce. Louisiana is one of the nine "community property" states.

"Community property" is property that is obtained during marriage through the work or skill of either spouse. A spouse owns an undivided one-half interest in this property with their spouse. A spouse cannot sell, mortgage or lease their interest until it is divided.

Other community property includes property donated to both spouses, property acquired with the community property when its value is insignificant to the value of the community property and revenue from the community property. Revenue from separate property becomes community property unless it is clearly identified as a spouse's separate property.

Some property is legally classified as separate property owned by one of the spouses. This includes property acquired during marriage classified by a prenuptial or post-nuptial agreement as separate, property purchased with a spouse's own money, individual inheritances or gifts to an individual spouse and damages from personal injuries. However, damages related to community property because of the injury or compensation for lost community earnings are classified as community property.

Debt acquired during marriage is a community property debt if it is acquired for their common interest or the interest of the other spouse. A debt acquired before the divorce judgment for legal fees and costs is a community debt.

During divorce, community property and debt are divided between the spouses. A divorce also ends community property classification. Generally, wages become separate property. A spouse may also have a legal claim against their former spouse for reimbursement of half of the payments made on community debts.

A pre-nuptial or post-nuptial agreement can help decide this issue before the end of a marriage. The parties may also agree to division during divorce settlement negotiations. If the couple cannot agree on dividing assets or debts, a judge will rule on this matter.

Source: Louisiana State Bar Association, "Community Property," Accessed Feb. 19, 2018

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