Generally, the community estate is liable for any debts that you, or your spouse, incurred before or during your marriage. However, if the debt was incurred as a result of harming another or harming another’s property, liability for the debt may in some cases be first satisfied from your separate property, or your spouse’s separate property, depending upon who committed the harm.
To determine if the debt will be satisfied from either your separate property, or your spouse’s separate property, you must look at whether the harm occurred while performing an activity for the benefit of the community. If it did, the debt will first be satisfied from the community estate and second from the separate property of the spouse who did the harm. Fam. Code §1000(b)(1). In the alternative, if it did not, the debt will first be satisfied from the separate property of the harming spouse and then the community estate. Fam. Code §1000(b)(2).
You may now be wondering what type of activities benefit the community. This is where the analysis may become challenging. For example, does the community receive a benefit by one spouse attending a religious event or visiting their extended family? The answer is it may depend because you could make the argument either way. How about your spouse driving to work or driving somewhere to commit a crime? The answers to these questions are much clearer. A spouse driving to work does benefit the community, whereas a spouse driving somewhere to commit a crime does not.