Separate property belongs just to one spouse and not the community. Separate property is:
- property that was owned before marriage AND,
- property that at any time came directly from just one spouse by gift or inheritance.
Community property belongs to both spouses equally. Community property is anything acquired by either spouse during the marriage that is not separate property. Property possessed at the time of divorce by either spouse is presumed to be community property unless it can be shown to be otherwise.
If the spouses intentionally agree to it, community property can be converted to the separate property of one spouse. Similarly, any spouse that owns separate property can convert it to community property. These agreements can be inferred by actions as well as by words. For example, if one spouse uses separate property to pay for community home improvements, then we can assume it was a gift to the community. Without some clear agreement, separate property that is mixed or mingled with community property tends to lose its separate quality.
Even though the spouses may have been separated for years, the earnings and bills of each spouse are community property until the divorce is ordered. If there are bills owed by you and your spouse that were accumulated during your marriage, they will have to be valued and divided along with property.
One thing you must understand is that orders of the court and agreements between the spouses about who is to pay bills do not in any way affect the people you owe. These are strictly between the spouses. If you owed money to someone before the divorce, and your spouse is ordered to pay the bill but does not do it, then you still owe the money. The creditor can come after you or repossess the property. Your spouse may be in contempt of court, for all the good that does you.
Between marriage and divorce, the spouses are liable for each other's debts. This means that if your spouse moved away five years ago, hasn't been heard from sense, and bought some shoes last month, the shoe store can come to you for payment if the bill is not paid by your spouse. This unnecessary and unfortunate rule is the reason many people are in a big hurry to get their divorce over this.