Unless there are minor children involved, the division of a couple’s marital property is often the most difficult and stressful part of a divorce. The more you know about how things work, however, the easier it is to plan your future.
California is a community property state
California is one of the few states that takes a “community property” approach to marital assets. Most states use an equitable distribution model that allocates marital assets based on factors like the length of the marriage, spousal income or need and each party’s contributions.
Community property law generally requires all the marital assets to be divided equally. This means each spouse will usually be entitled to half of the following:
- All real property that has been acquired during the marriage, including real estate, furnishings, stocks, bonds, investment accounts, artwork and the like
- All income received during the marriage, including wages, business income, dividends, gains in a property’s equity and so on
- All debts that were acquired during the marriage, including those that may be solely in the one spouse’s name
There are some items that remain each party’s separate property. For example, if you inherited a large sum of money from an aunt, that would remain your private property (as long as you didn’t commingle the funds with any of your spouse’s or put their name on the account the money is in).
What about property held outside the state?
Sometimes a California couple may have property that was acquired in or held in a different state that uses the equitable distribution model. In those situations, that is considered “quasi-community property,” and is subject to division as if it were acquired in California.
There are always nuances in the law that can’t be addressed in a short post. Once you have the basics of the law in mind, it’s smart to discuss the specifics of your case with an experienced attorney.