Common Law Property

DEFINITION of 'Common Law Property'

A system used by most states to determine ownership of property acquired during marriage. In contrast to the community property system, the common law property system states that property acquired by one member of a married couple belongs solely to that person unless the property is specifically put in the names of both spouses.

BREAKING DOWN 'Common Law Property'

Under the common law property system, if a married woman purchases a car and puts only her name on the title, that car belongs exclusively to her. If the woman lived in a community property state, however, the car would automatically become the property of both the woman and her husband.

For a married couple living together in harmony, the technical details of ownership may seem trivial. However, the details can become very important during divorce or upon death.