Understanding community property laws in Texas

This article provides a brief overview of Texas' community property laws and how they impact divorces.

Texas is one of a handful of community property states. For those going through a divorce, it is extremely important to understand what community property means since it may affect how their property is divided with their soon-to-be ex-spouse. While community property laws are popularly thought of as simply splitting property equally between both spouses after a divorce, the truth is a bit more complicated. As will be shown below, Texas' community property laws are complex and they can have very different consequences depending on a divorcing couple's unique circumstances.

Community property vs. Equitable distribution

As the Huffington Post points out, family law can differ dramatically from one state to the next. While the majority of states use equitable distribution laws, which give judges significant leeway in dividing marital property "fairly" (though not always equally), Texas and many western states follow community property laws.

Simply put, community property laws mean that most of the marital property (including debt) that a couple has acquired over the course of their marriage will be split 50-50 upon divorce or death. Generally speaking, this makes property division during a litigated divorce fairly straightforward in a community property state.

What is community property?

The problem, however, is that not all of the property two spouses own is considered community property under Texas law. As FindLaw notes, Texas makes a distinction between separate and marital property. Separate property is often property that was owned by one spouse prior to marriage and, as such, it is generally returned to him or her after a divorce. Some other items are also not counted as community property, including family heirlooms, birthday gifts, personal injury awards, and inheritances. Proving that property is separate and not marital, however, is not always simple and often requires the assistance of an attorney.

Do community property laws always apply?

For many people going through a divorce, splitting their marital property equally will be unsuitable for their particular circumstances. The good news is that such division typically only applies to divorce cases that go to court. There are ways for couples to come up with their own property division formulas that may not strictly comply with a 50-50 division, such as through a prenuptial agreement or by a negotiated divorce settlement. It's also important to keep in mind that other important financial considerations that arise during divorce, such as child support and spousal maintenance, are separate from community property laws.

Family law

Property division is a complex area of Texas family law and anybody going through a divorce can benefit from having somebody on their side who is well-versed in such law. An experienced family law attorney can help anybody with a family law issue, including with whatever concerns they may have about property division during their own divorce.