FindLaw KnowledgeBasePublished: 2012-05-08
Dividing Property in California Divorces
One of the major questions people have about divorce is how their property may be divided as the marriage ends. Through pop culture news and celebrity divorces, they may develop a notion that they are automatically entitled “half” of the marital estate. While there may be some truth behind that notion, the following article will highlight how real and personal property can be divided under California law.
California is recognized as a community property state. This means that all property acquired through labor or skill during the marriage is presumed to be community property. Since the law recognizes that both spouses make contributions to the marriage, they are equally entitled to the assets and property they accumulate. Hence, the term “community property.”
The community designation applies if only one spouse worked during the course of the marriage, as well as when a significant income disparity exists between the parties. As such, business interests, stock options, and retirement benefits earned by the parties may be divided.
Conversely, separate property is all property not included in the marital estate, and generally includes assets acquired prior to, and after, the marriage. Property acquired by gift or inheritance is commonly considered separate property, even if it is received by one of the spouses during the marriage. Since it is not included in the marital estate, separate property is not divided.
However, identifying separate property may be problematic, especially after it has been mixed with community property. Separate property could be used to purchase a family home or to finance a family owned business. Nevertheless, the law allows for separate property to be recouped even if it has been commingled with community property.
Equitable Division of Assets
Ultimately, the court’s goal is to effect an equitable division of the assets. While the term “equitable” is commonly assumed to mean “equal”, the goal is actually to reach a “fair” distribution. The court may award a larger share of the community assets to a spouse if property has been misappropriated or concealed by the other spouse. Also, it may award a specific asset (such as the family home) when the circumstances warrant, even though the value of the home may result in an unequal distribution.
Determining how property should be divided can be complicated process. If you have questions an experienced family law attorney can advise you.