In California, when dividing property during a divorce, both parties need to be aware of the fact that all debts that were incurred during the marriage are presumed to be community property.  The only debts which would normally not be considered community property are debts which are deemed completely unrelated to the community.  This might include:

  • a debt related to one person’s separate property
  • support obligations
  • gifts or expenses related to a romantic relationship other than the marriage, or
  • criminal acts which did not have financial benefit to the community.

This means that a spouse could incur a debt for a purpose the other spouse does not approve and it would still be considered a community debt.

Debts that have been incurred before the marriage remain the responsibility of the person who originally incurred them.  If community funds are used to pay these debts, sometimes there is a right of reimbursement for the community and sometimes not.  Special rules apply depending upon the type of debt and other assets/income which were available to pay it.

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