Arizona’s community property laws generally provide that property acquired by either spouse during marriage is community property. Arizona Revised Statutes § 25-211. Similarly, all debts incurred by either spouse during marriage are considered community debt, if incurred for the benefit of the marital community. Arizona Revised Statutes § 25-214; Donato v. Fishburn, 90 Ariz. 210, 213, 367 P.2d 245, 246 (1961). This means that in collecting a debt in Arizona, a creditor of the marital community may pursue all of the couple’s community property, regardless of which spouse incurred the debt. A few exceptions exist, which will be addressed in our next blog post.
The community’s liability goes even further to include torts engaged in by either spouse. Community property law contemplates as a general matter that the marital community is liable for the negligent driving by one spouse of a community automobile. Alosi v. Hewitt, 229 Ariz. 449, 454, 276 P.2d 518, 523 (App. 2012). The Arizona rule is that “the community is liable for the intentional torts of either spouse if the tortious act was committed with the intent to benefit the community, regardless of whether in fact the community receives any benefit.” Id.
A spouse who is married, for example, to a shopaholic, a gambling addict or a serious risk taker may want to insulate certain property from further liability by entering into a written agreement designating separate property. On the other hand, a creditor of such a couple may want to ensure collectability of the debt by confirming that most of the couple’s assets are community property. Alternatively, the creditor in a business transaction could seek representations, warranties or guarantees from both spouses individually.