Only, “everyone” is wrong.
Or, more accurately, they’re only half right.
Community property is liable for everything
In California, the community property is liable for the debts of either spouse.
In fact, the community property is liable for the debts that either spouse brings to the marriage as well as the debts incurred during marriage.
But while the community property may be liable for your spouse’s debts, you personally aren’t liable if you didn’t incur the debt.
So, your spouse’s creditor can’t reach your separate property, or property you acquire after the marriage ends. But that creditor can reach your community property wages.
Further, in California, there is no liability for garden variety debts of the other spouse once the marriage ends: your spouse’s debts don’t follow you after the marriage unless the judgment of dissolution so provides.
Creation of community property
Property acquired during marriage is presumed to be community property.
Presumed, but doesn’t have to be.
You aren’t bound to have community property. Spouses can agree that they won’t have community property, or that only certain property will be community and the balance will be the separate property of the spouses.
To be enforceable at law, the agreement needs to be in writing and both spouses should be separately represented by counsel.
Who is liable for marital debts
My word picture in trying to explain community property and community claims to clients is that from a creditor’s perspective, the marriage really involves three entities: two spouses and the community property: a menage a trois, sanctioned by the law<g>.
Each spouse is personally liable for the debts that spouse incurs. That personal liability will survive the marriage: it follows the person.
The community, as long as it has property, is liable for the debts of both spouses, incurred before and during marriage.
If/when the community is no more, each spouse is liable for their own debts, which may include debts assigned to them in a dissolution. The property they hold after the community is no more is their separate property, liable for their debts.
Researching law on the internet
The other point to draw here is that even input from a highly capable lawyer, while accurate about the law of the state in which he practices, may not be fully applicable in other states.
Even the statements of law from lawyers in other community property states may not be accurate under the laws of a community property state where you live.
You cannot “research” your legal questions on the internet and be sure that the information you gather can be reliably applied to your situation.
That’s what lawyers are for, and why we have licenses from the state in which we practice, and are forbidden to give legal advice elsewhere.
More about community property basics
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