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Understanding Separate and Community Income Tax Treatment for California Spouses

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Understanding Separate and Community Income Tax Treatment for California Spouses


In the complex world of taxation, one area that often presents intricate challenges is determining the tax treatment of income earned by spouses residing in California, one of the nine community property states. Revenue Ruling 73-390 provides vital insights into this matter, outlining the rules and regulations that dictate whether separately earned income should be classified as separate or community income for federal income tax purposes. In this article, we’ll delve into the key points of this revenue ruling to help grasp its implications and make informed decisions for our clients.


Revenue Ruling 73-390 is a significant piece of guidance that clarifies the taxation of earned income for spouses in California. The ruling’s primary objective is to update and restate the stance previously outlined in G.C.M. 18884, aligning it with current statutes and regulations. At its core, the ruling addresses the crucial question: When spouses residing in California have a valid agreement stating that their personal service income will be treated as separate property, how should this income be categorized for federal income tax purposes?

California Community Property Law

In order to understand the ruling’s implications, it’s essential to be familiar with California’s community property law. Under this law, the earnings of spouses during marriage are typically considered community property. This means that both spouses hold an equal and existing interest in the earnings, and both are responsible for associated taxes on the community income. However, sections 5103 and 5105 of the Civil Code of California also allow spouses to enter into agreements that define specific property rights, even if they occupy confidential relations with each other.

Case Law Precedents

The ruling references important case law precedents that support its position. For instance, it mentions the case of Dale Van Every v. Commissioner, which held that if a husband and wife in California enter into a valid agreement stating that the wife’s earnings are her separate property, these earnings cannot be taxed as community income. Similarly, the case of Helvering v. Hickman reinforces the principle that earnings specified as separate property in a valid agreement are not treated as community income for tax purposes.

Impact on Tax Treatment

Applying these principles to a real-world scenario, if a husband and wife in California have a valid agreement that designates their personal service income as separate property, the income earned by each spouse should be treated as their separate income for federal income tax purposes. This means that the income is not subject to the default community property tax treatment.


If you and your spouse reside in California, it is important to understand the tax consequences before entering into an agreement – that is, community income and separate income may be taxed differently considering different filing status (i.e., Married Filing Jointly or Married Filing Separately). At Dimov Tax, we possess the expertise of unraveling the complexities of community property law, case law precedents, and the ruling’s specifics. Our experienced professionals are equipped to provide you with precise guidance.

Services We Provide

  • Expert tax filings in community property states for all filing status
  • Tailored tax planning geared towards pre-marriage couples or married couples
  • Mastery of Married Filing Separately tax returns and the
  • Guidance on the specifics of community property rules
  • Community income and asset allocation in divorce cases
  • Retirement and estate planning for couples in community property states
  •  Ongoing guidance and support
  •  And more…

Contact Us Today

Understanding the complexities of income tax categorization, particularly in relation to separate and community income, can be challenging. However, rest assured that we are committed to providing you with precise and customized guidance. Should you require assistance with any of the services mentioned above, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us using the contact information provided below. We are here to help you navigate the intricate landscape of community property rules and guide you every step of the way.

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