Chapter 6: How to Conquer Community Property on the California Bar Exam
Community Property on the California Bar Exam
Community Property is regularly tested on the California Bar Exam. Unsurprisingly, California law is always applied to these questions. Here, we give you some insight into how Community Property is tested on the California Bar Exam and how you should approach these essay questions.
Community Property on the California Bar Exam
1. First, know how Community Property is tested.
As noted above, California law always applies to Community Property questions. Most essays have a “Husband” and “Wife” character beginning with the letters “H” and “W” (e.g., Herb and Wanda, Henry and Wilma, etc.). So, if you see “H” and “W” characters on a California Bar Exam essay, that should be your cue that you are reading a Community Property question.
Community Property generally is tested on its own rather than with another subject. However, Community Property has been combined with Trusts, Wills, and Professional Responsibility.
2. Introduce topics correctly.
To maximize your points, it is a good idea to have a standard introduction when you write your answer to a Community Property essay on the California Bar Exam.
For example, be sure to include the following points in your introduction:
- California is a community property state. All property acquired or earned during a marriage is considered community property. Property acquired before the marriage or by gift, devise, or bequest is presumed separate property.
- When relevant, insert a rule on quasi-community property: Quasi-community property is property acquired by either spouse that would have been community property if the spouse had been domiciled in California at the time the property was acquired.
- At divorce, community property is divided equally unless a rule or agreement between the spouses requires division otherwise.
Having a solid introduction will help you maximize your score. It will also give you confidence as you begin writing your Community Property essay answer because you will have something relevant to say right away.
3. Be aware of the highly tested topics.
Some Community Property topics are tested more frequently than others. (We have a nice overview of these in our California Bar Exam One-Sheets, which you can see a sample of here!)
Here are some highly tested Community Property issues on the essay portion of the California Bar Exam:
- Termination of the marital economic community: The marital economic community ends at death, divorce, or when a spouse expresses intent to end the marriage and the conduct of that spouse is consistent with his or her intent to end the marriage. This latter point has been tested multiple times.
- Separate property: Remember that if you can “trace” assets from separate property, the assets will remain separate property, even if they are acquired during the marriage.
- Quasi-community property: Quasi-community property is property acquired by a married couple that lived outside of California when the property was acquired but that would be classified as community property if the couple had been living in California.
- Quasi-community property is still treated as separate property for the duration of the marriage but will be treated as community property at death or divorce. (Note that upon death, California does not have jurisdiction over real property located in a different state.)
- Transmutations: This topic is one of the State Bar of California’s favorites to test. A transmutation is an agreement made during the marriage to alter the character of an asset (e.g., from separate to community property or vice versa, or from one spouse’s separate property to another). It must be in writing and there is an exception for some gifts. When transmutations are tested, a valid transmutation is almost never found.
- Debts: debts incurred during the marriage are tested in various ways.
Being familiar with the most highly tested topics will help you to maximize your points if Community Property is tested!
The best way to get good at Community Property essays is to practice writing answers to essay questions. This will acquaint you with the highly tested issues and show you how these issues are tested on the exam. Additionally, you will feel more confident and comfortable walking into the California Bar Exam!
Here are a few essay questions with student answers that we recommend you practice so you can become familiar with some of highly tested topics in Community Property essay questions:
- February 2021 Community Property essay: this essay applies California law and covers community property, separate property, termination of marital economic community, accounting methods for valuation of property, and goodwill (see essay #3 on the exam).
- February 2019 Community Property essay (combined with Wills and Trusts): this essay applies California law and covers community property, quasi-community property, separate property, and gifts of community property (see essay #1 on the exam).
- July 2018 Community Property essay: this essay applies California law and covers community property, separate property, termination of marital economic community, community property used to improve separate property, comingled back accounts, retirement pensions, and personal injury settlements (see essay question #4 on the exam).
- July 2016 Community Property essay: this essay applies California law and covers community property, transmutations, premarital agreements, termination of marital economic community, spousal management and control of community property, fiduciary duties, and liability for debt (see essay question #5 on the exam).
Good luck studying for the California Bar Exam!
Go to the next topic, Chapter 7: Constitutional Law.
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