In the U.S., the doctrine of community property is purely a statutory creation. Under common law, a husband is primarily responsible for the expenses of the family and the wife’s responsibility is only secondary. However, under community property law, the expenses of the family and the education of the children, including stepchildren, are chargeable upon the property of both husband and wife, or either of them, and they may be sued jointly or separately[i].
Community property law exclusively deals with property and have no bearing upon the personal rights and liabilities of spouses and reflects the inherent partnership and sharing of duty in a marital relationship. The notion of community property is that marriage is a partnership in which the spouses devote their particular talents, energies, and resources to their common good. The acquisitions and benefits made by the spouses using community expenditures of labor and resources are shared equally by the community[ii].
However, it is to be noted that all marital property is not community property. Statutes and courts stipulate that property acquired prior to marriage is separate, while property acquired during the marriage is presumed to be community property. Similarly, “income from separate property is separate, the intrinsic increase of separate property is separate, but the fruits of the community’s expenditures of time, talent, and labor are community property[iii].” Thus, community property includes all property acquired by either spouse during a marriage not otherwise statutorily deemed separate property.
The community property of spouses is not considered as a separate legal entity, which is distinct from the spouses. Instead, the community is deemed to be a kind of limited partnership for the common benefit of the spouses.
However, in some states, law presumes marital community as a distinct legal entity[iv].
Similarly, in some states, community property laws are based on the existence of a viable marital community and requires more than mere satisfaction of the legal requirements of marriage. Since community property is obtained by the efforts of either the husband or wife, or both, for the benefit of both, there can be no community or common enterprise when the marriage is defunct[v]. However, mere physical separation does not dissolve the community[vi].
Community relationship arises as an immediate effect of marriage and not by a separate contract between the parties.
[i] Harmon v. DSHS, 134 Wn.2d 523, 535 (Wash. 1998)
[ii] Martinez v. Block, 115 N.M. 762 (N.M. Ct. App. 1993)
[iii] In re Marriage of Dekker, 17 Cal. App. 4th 842, 850 (Cal. App. 4th Dist. 1993)
[iv] Torres v. United States, 24 F. Supp. 2d 181, 183 (D.P.R. 1998)
[v] Togliatti v. Robertson, 29 Wash. 2d 844, 852, 190 P.2d 575 (1948)
[vi] Kerr v. Cochran, 65 Wash. 2d 211, 396 P.2d 642 (1964)