Marital or community property is defined somewhat differently by different states, but it generally includes property and income acquired during the marriage. Wages earned during the marriage are marital property. A home, furniture, and cars purchased during the marriage usually are considered marital property.
When property is considered to be marital or community property, the court has the power to divide the property between the parties. Unlike separate or nonmarital property, one party does not have an automatic right to keep the property in the event of a divorce.
If title to property is held in the name of only one spouse, that does not necessarily mean that the property is not marital or community property. Assume, for example, that wife and husband both work and use their wages to purchase a car. If title to the car is only in the wife’s name or only in the husband’s name, the car still is marital property because payments for the car came from marital funds (their wages). Even if one spouse bought the car with his or her wages, was the only driver, and held title to the car, the car still is marital property because payments came from marital funds.
As a practical matter, if husband and wife owned two cars and a judge had to decide who receives which car, the husband and wife probably would each receive the vehicle that he or she primarily drove. Nonetheless, if the property in question is marital property, the judge has the power to give it to either party.
A pension also is usually marital property, even though it may have been earned by the labor of only one spouse during the marriage. To the extent that rights to a pension were earned partially during the marriage and partially during a period when the parties were not married, the part earned during the marriage may be marital property and the part earned when the parties were not married may be nonmarital property.