Community property and division of assets in a California divorce
Divorce is a complicated process that can be confusing for any couple to work through, regardless of the specific circumstances. For couples in San Diego County under the laws of the state of California, property division can be one of the more confusing issues that comes up during a divorce. Whether you are preparing to get married or considering a separation, it’s important for every couple in California to understand the relevant laws as well as their options for dividing assets during a divorce.
California property division laws
Unlike many states, which distribute property equitably based on factors like the length of the marriage and each spouse’s income, California is a state with community property laws. When assets and liabilities are divided during a divorce, they can be classified into four categories:
- Community property, which was obtained during the marriage and belongs to both spouses.
- Quasi-community property, which is property that either spouse acquired while living in another state that would have been considered community property if acquired in California.
- Separate property, which is property that a spouse owned prior to the marriage or obtained after the date of separation.
- Mixed community and separate property.
In a California divorce, community property is divided equally, while separate property is not divided at all. When the mixing of community and separate property occurs, dividing property can become considerably more complicated. When assets like pensions or home equity are commingled, seeking the help of an experienced family law attorney is essential in determining property division.
Arriving at a fair settlement
State rules govern the division of assets and debts when a couple settles their divorce in court. However, a couple that reaches a settlement outside of court may be able to agree to terms that both spouses view as favorable, which can supersede what state law dictates.
Although many couples try to work out a settlement themselves without an attorney, often to save money, in the long run it is wiser to work with a family law attorney to determine whether community property division or another kind of division would be most favorable. Any legal mistakes made during the settlement process without an attorney’s expertise can be very expensive to go back and change later.
Couples can also avoid a difficult and protracted divorce settlement by creating a prenuptial agreement before getting married. A prenuptial agreement establishes a plan for how financial issues like alimony and property division will be handled. The payment of child support is the only major financial consideration that cannot be addressed in a prenuptial agreement.
It is important for all couples getting married in California to become educated about the property division laws to understand any risks and potential outcomes associated with their marriage. It is especially important for couples entering a marriage after a divorce, or with considerable property or other assets acquired before the marriage, which can present complications down the road.
Anyone going through a divorce should speak with a family law attorney to ensure the protection of personal rights and interests during the divorce settlement.