Arizona is one of nine community property states. This means that Arizona family law courts perceive property amassed over the course of a marriage as belonging to both spouses equally. However, courts in the state have discretion as to how to divide marital assets. Generally, the goal is to divide property in a way that's fair to both parties.
Community property may include any real estate purchased during marriage, retirement funds and bank accounts. If one spouse opens a business during marriage, both spouses generally have an interest in the business -- this is true even if only one spouse was involved in the day-to-day operations of the business. Personal property -- that is, property such as cars, boats and furniture -- purchased during marriage is considered part of the community estate and owned equally by both spouses as well.
In Arizona, courts recognize some property as separate and distinct from community property. Separate property is typically any type of property a spouse owned prior to getting married. Separate property can also apply to certain property acquired during marriage, such as inheritances and gifts. Separate property may lose its separate nature if commingled with community property. When one spouse claims that certain assets are his separate property, that spouse has the burden of proving it to the court.
In Arizona, courts have discretion as to how community property is divided. Although spouses generally have a 50/50 interest in community property, it isn't always divided that way. A court may allocate more community property to one spouse in the interest of fairness. For example, if one spouse stayed at home to look after the children full time, while the other spouse was gaining professional skills -- and by extension, gaining greater earning potential -- a court may award more community property to the spouse who stayed at home, if the court deems it equitable.
Arizona courts may also allocate more community property to one spouse if there's evidence of excessive expenditures by the other spouse. In other words, if one spouse is found to have squandered community property assets, a court may award more to the non-guilty party. Although retirement funds accrued during marriage are viewed as community property, any portion of a retirement fund that accrued before marriage is considered separate and not subject to division.