There is significant overlap between the essay portion of the Uniform Bar Exam (known as the Multistate Essay Exam) and the California Bar Examination. Still, Community Property is one topic area unique to California—and a few other non-UBE jurisdictions, such as Nevada.
Community Property has been fair game on the essay portion of the California Bar Examination since the 1980s.
It’s also bar examiner favorite, appearing at least forty times (either on its own or as part of a cross-over) since 1984.
As with any subject, certain topics are tested more often than others.
Issues relating to transmutations, titles, and debts make frequent appearances, but more esoteric issues (looking at you Pereira/VanCamp) are also fair game.
Because this is a California-specific subject, it goes without saying that California law always applies.
To help you face Community Property confidently, we have gathered some useful California bar essay tips.
Start Off Right
Community Property essays typically ask about the parties’ (usually some variation on “H” for “husband” and “W” for “wife”) rights in certain pieces of real and personal property.
Relevant examples include a house, a painting, stock options, or a bank account.
While you may be tempted to jump right into an analysis of how the first piece of property will be divided, resist the urge.
A bar grader will expect to see the same customary introduction in every Community Property essay.
In short, it should be some variation of:
California is a community property state. All property acquired during marriage by the labor of either spouse is community property unless otherwise agreed. Property acquired prior to the marriage or property earned during the marriage but falling into a special category — such as gifts, inheritances, devises, property subject to a transmutation, or subject to a premarital agreement — is separate property.
If you start with something different, you risk activating your grader’s super-sensitive “bar grader antennae.” And trust us, that is something you don’t want to do.
Once their antennae are activated, your grader may read your essay with a more critical eye, on the lookout for erroneous rules and lackluster analysis.
Play it safe and memorize this accepted introduction (adding in a sentence about quasi-community property if the facts raise this issue).
It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over
If you haven’t heard, Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez have rekindled their romance — not unlike some of the couples featured on Community Property essays.
Often, a Community Property essay can read more like a soap opera script, with “H” and “W” separating and then resuming their relationship one or more times before finally and officially calling it quits.
However, unless and until there is a permanent separation (marked by one party clearly communicating their intent to end the marriage to the other party), the community still exists (even if, like Ross and Rachel from Friends, the parties were “on a break”).
This is important because, until that date, the earnings and accumulations of each spouse are treated as community property unless another rule applies.
Do the Math
If you are anything like us, you may have gone to law school because math isn’t a favorite or a forte.
However, if the bar examiners provide you with numbers, they expect you to “do the math” and be specific about the amount each individual will get.
For example, if you are presented with, “Wendy, married to Harold, settled with Dan’s insurance carrier for $50,000,” you need to explain that Wendy and Harold will get $25,000 rather than simply stating that each will get half the total amount.
Fortunately, there’s no need to brush up on your calculus skills. Any math you need to do is likely to be simple.
Keeping Pereira and VanCamp Straight
While it isn’t always tested, it’s not unusual for students to struggle with Pereira and VanCamp.
When there are community property contributions to a separate property business (funds or labor of one of the spouses after marriage), it can be hard to keep these two different formulas straight.
Just remember, use Pereira (which favors the community) when the business’s growth is attributable to the “people skills” of the spouse.
Use VanCamp when the business’s growth is attributable to the “very nature” of the business.
Community Property Practice for the CA Bar Exam
With the California Bar Examination fast approaching, there is no time to waste when it comes to studying.
But it’s not enough to memorize information, you need to put it into practice!
With our EssayRx platform, you’ll have access to 30 years of previous bar exam questions and answers.
Get bar exam ready by brushing up on Community Property and getting lots of practice essays in.