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Understanding Arizona's laws on property division during divorce

In the majority of cases, two issues seem to dominate in divorce disputes: child custody/child support and property division. It can be quite difficult for a divorcing couple to come to an agreement on who should keep what, especially when larger and less-liquid assets, such as real property or business assets, are at stake.

A couple has the option of deciding among themselves how property will be divided if they can reach an agreement during the divorce or if they made a separation agreement at some point prior to the initiation of divorce proceedings. A separation agreement can cover many different issues. In regards to property division, however, a separation agreement will generally describe the decisions the couple wishes to make about the ownership of real estate and the division of property. Unless the agreement is later determined by a court to be unfair, it must be accepted by the court during a divorce.

If the couple cannot resolve property division disputes on their own, the court will distribute the property according to Arizona law. Arizona law holds that all property the couple acquires during the marriage is classified as community property. There are no limitations on what kinds of property can be community property. Community property may include land or real property, cash, investment accounts, tangible property like jewelry and furniture, vehicles, wages earned during a marriage, and even retirement accounts.

It is important to understand and identify whether a piece of property is characterized as community or individual property because that classification will affect how it is distributed or divided. The law requires that the division of community between spouses be fair--but this is not synonymous with "equal." However, a person's individual or separate property does not have to be split fairly or equally. Each spouse can retain his or her individual or separate property without restriction. Because of this exemption from fair division, a spouse must prove that any property it claims to be separate was owned by the person individually before the marriage.

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