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Drawing a border between separate and community property

People considering marriage should be careful about commingling assets

Arizona is one of a handful of community property states, meaning that most property acquired during marriage by either spouse is considered the property of both spouses. As such, community property is divided equitably (though not necessarily equally) upon divorce, while separate property, such as inheritances and property acquired before marriage, is usually not subject to division. While the boundary between separate and community property may appear fairly straightforward, as Forbes recently reported, such a boundary can become blurred in some cases, especially when spouses have commingled their assets over a long period of time.

High-asset divorces

The need to maintain a clear division between separate and community property is especially important for couples with a large number of assets. High-asset divorces tend to be especially common in cases where older couples are divorcing after decades of marriage, since such couples are more likely to have built up a larger community estate. Given the high rate of gray divorce, as recently reported by Time, the likelihood for disputes around property division appears to be rising.

One of the problems when it comes to dividing property is that many spouses commingle their assets into joint accounts. When assets have been mixed together for a long period of time, it can be difficult to determine what share of those assets are considered separate versus community property.

Being prepared

Before getting married, a prenuptial agreement can help clarify how assets are to be divided. However, prenuptial agreements can be challenged, especially if there is evidence that they were not negotiated in good faith. Another way of ensuring a clear division between community and separate property is to maintain separate accounts. Assets and funds acquired before marriage or assets that have been inherited should be kept in a separate account, while assets acquired during marriage can be kept in a joint account.

Finally, the most important step to protecting one's property rights is to keep accurate financial records. Bank and credit card statements, tax returns, appraisals, and other financial documents, especially from as close to the date of marriage as possible, can help make dividing property a much easier process during divorce. The need for maintaining accurate records is especially important if one of the spouses is the owner of a business.

Property division in Arizona

Dividing property is one of the most important and complex areas that come up during most divorce cases. Making sure that property is divided equitably often requires the services of an experienced family law attorney. The job of an attorney is to represent his or her client's best interests, thus making them an invaluable asset during any divorce.

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