One of the major issues in any divorce is the division of the couple's property. Many states specify that property must be divided "fairly and equitably" between the divorcing spouses. This rule gives judges great discretion in deciding how the couple's property should be distributed in the event of a divorce.
Louisiana has a different rule: community property. In the absence of an enforceable prenuptial agreement specifying how the couple's property will be split, the court must divide all community property in two equal shares, one share going to each spouse. For couples with small marital estates, the classification and division of the marital estate is not difficult. For couples with large marital estates, especially couples who have been married for many years, the identification and division of community property can be very difficult.
In most cases, all assets acquired during the marriage are considered community property and are divided equally. Property owned by one spouse or the other before the marriage is considered separate property and is not subject to the community property rules. Also, property acquired by one spouse from the other during the marriage is considered separate property.
Problems arise in the case of jointly owned assets, such as a small business or an investment portfolio, that were acquired before the marriage but whose growth during the marriage is the result of a greater effort by one spouse. Whether the appreciation in the value of a portfolio or a small business is a separate or community asset can significantly complicate a divorce proceeding. As noted above, a valid prenuptial agreement can also complicate the division of community property by requiring a property division that is not equal.
Persons with large estates who are contemplating a divorce may wish to consult an experienced divorce attorney for advice on how the state's community property laws may affect their legal or financial situation.