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Property Division in a California Divorce: How Spouses Can Prepare

When two people decide to get married, it is almost always the culmination of months if not years of getting more comfortable in sharing property and resources. Couples buy a home, have children, and make investments in an attempt to build a life of happiness and wealth. However, when couples end up choosing to file for divorce, many questions arise regarding how this property will be distributed.

The divorce rate in California has been estimated at around 9% as of 2021. Commonly cited reasons for couples choosing to file for divorce include incompatibility, infidelity, and issues with finances/money management. As any experienced divorce attorney can attest, the process of filing for divorce and determining property division can be a stressful endeavor regardless of the underlying causes of the separation.

California law has outlined a system of property division known as “community property” by which all divorcing couples in the state must abide. While in the minority of states that use this system, it nevertheless compels residents to look at their assets and debts and determine how things will be split equally among each spouse.

In cases of property division due to divorce, consultation with an experienced local divorce attorney is always recommended, even if couples are splitting amicably. These professionals can help couples better understand how the law applies to their unique situation. There are, however, some general points of information that every California resident should consider. The following is some baseline information on how California spouses can prepare for property division in their state.

Understanding Community Property

As previously mentioned, California divorce law uses a system of property division called community property. This means that all assets and debts acquired during the marriage are assumed to belong equally to each spouse, and thus must be divided equally during a divorce.

Community property differs from the system used in the majority of other states, known as “equitable distribution.” Under that system, courts assign a relative allocation of assets and debts based on factors such as income and contributions made to each other during the course of the marriage.

Community Property vs. Separate Property

Separate property is generally considered to be anything that the spouse owned alone prior to getting married. Separate property also typically includes any gifts or inheritances received. Any increases in the value of separate property, as well as any items purchased with separate property, are generally considered to be the possession of that particular spouse.

As any experienced divorce attorney will tell you, determining the difference between community property and separate property is never as straightforward as it seems. For example, when spouses begin to mix finances from before the marriage with their spouse, things can get complicated quickly. Common scenarios include a spouse contributing to a bank account owned by the other person prior to the marriage, or using a pre-marital bank account to make mortgage payments in a home owned by both spouses (and thus considered community property).

The Need for Legal Counsel

Even in the most amicable of divorce cases, spouses are advised to consult with a trusted divorce attorney to review their property and determine what is truly separate and what is community property. For years, the attorneys at SAC Attorneys have been assisting spouses in and around San Jose with this process. Contact SAC Attorneys today to get your questions answered.

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