Division of Property

California is a "community property" state.  What that means is that a husband and wife are treated as a legal "community." Everything acquired by either of them during the marriage (with very limited exceptions), and any debt incurred by either of them during the marriage, is deemed to belong to the community.  So, each spouse owns one half of the property, and is also responsible for one half of the debt.

You and your spouse are required to complete financial disclosures during the process of obtaining your judgment for divorce or legal separation.  Once completed, you may, if you and your spouse are able, agree on a division of marital property and debt. If you cannot reach agreement, the court will divide assets and debts for you. If you can agree on the division of some assets, but not others, the court will divide the property you were unable to agree on at trial.

How Do California Courts Divide Assets?

California courts divide only community property in a divorce. Some property may be considered "separate," such as gifts to one party, an inheritance received by one party, or property owned by one party before the marriage or acquired after the date of separation. (Because of this, identifying the correct date of separation can make a significant difference as to what property should be considered "community" or "separate.")

Property can also be partly separate and partly community. For instance, if your spouse bought a house before you met, then you moved into it together after the marriage and paid the mortgage with community assets (such as either of your income from work during the marriage), the other spouse will likely be deemed to have obtained a financial interest in the house.  Likewise, if you started a job with a retirement plan before marriage, then kept that job and plan and continued to contribute to it after marriage, if would be partly a separate and partly a community asset.  Accounts such as this are divided by using the “Time Rule”.

There is also something called "quasi-community property." Quasi-community property is property that you and your spouse acquired together after your marriage while living in a state other than California; had you been living in California at the time, the asset would have been considered community property. In a California divorce, quasi-community property, wherever located, is divided just like community property.

As you can see, property division in a California divorce is a complex matter, and it is not always obvious what property is subject to division. Add to this the fact that some property may be difficult to value, and it becomes clear that the assistance of an experienced California family law attorney is essential when attempting to reach settlement on property division.

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