How Property Is Divided In A California Divorce?
When a marriage or domestic partnership ends in California, the splitting couple will have to divide up the property (and debt) they have. Each person may have had the property that they owned before and brought into the union. They may also have acquired property jointly or each by themselves during the marriage or partnership.
The parties are generally allowed to agree on how to divide their property as long as both people are of equal bargaining power and the proposed division is equitable under the circumstances. However, a court must still sign off on the property division agreement in order to make it legal and binding to the rest of the world.
California is one of 9 ‘community property states that give married couples each a one-half ownership interest in all property acquired during the period of marriage.
At Baghdaserians Law Group Inc, we understand that emotions can run high as estranged couples try to agree on how to separate their belongings. Our experienced Pasadena divorce attorneys are there to protect the rights of our clients and negotiate a property settlement that is in their best interests.
What Does ‘Property’ Include?
In California, property is either ‘real’ (immovable) or ‘personal’ (moveable). In a marriage or domestic partnership, the primary real property is usually a home or other real estate that was acquired during the marriage. Personal property is everything else such as:
- Bank accounts/cash
- Retirement accounts
Personal property can also include a legal right to do something or to have something.
How Married Couples Own Property In California
Married couples or domestic partners own property in one of 3 ways in California.
- Community Property: All property (and debt) that is acquired during the marriage is considered owned 50/50. Income earned by either spouse is half-owned by each. Similarly, property purchased by one spouse is half-owned by the other spouse. If one spouse incurs a large debt, half of the debt will be considered the obligation of the other spouse.
- Quasi-community Property: Quasi-community property is the property that was purchased in another state during the marriage and would be community property if it had been purchased in California. In a divorce, California law treats such property as community property.
- Separate Property: Separate property is any property that a spouse owned prior to the marriage or that one spouse received as a gift or inheritance during the marriage. Any income generated by separate property or any property acquired with separate property remains separate property.
Who Gets What Property In A Divorce?
Generally, the community and quasi-community property (and debt) are divided equally between the spouses and each person retains their own separate property. But couples can agree to change or ‘transmute’ the character of property from separate to community or community to separate.
In the absence of an agreement changing the character of the property, property division can get complicated when community property and separate property are ‘commingled’ so that the separate property is not easily distinguished from the community property.
Here are several common ways separate and community property can become commingled.
- One spouse uses separate funds to make the down payment on a house purchased after the marriage.
- One spouse purchases a home prior to the marriage that the couple lives in and continues to make payments on after the marriage.
- One spouse has a retirement account that was started prior to the marriage and then continues to make contributions to the account after the marriage.
Creative Solutions To Complicated Situations
There are times when a strict division of all property would not be advantageous to one or both of the divorcing parties. In those situations, an attorney who has assisted many clients with California property divisions can help find solutions that offer a more beneficial result.
For instance, instead of selling a $1 million community property home and dividing a $1 million community property pension, one spouse may agree to keep the home while the other keeps the pension.
The Pasadena divorce lawyers at Baghdaserians Law Group Inc have helped hundreds of clients through the difficult process of divorce and property division. Sometimes clients have particularly attached to certain property of the marriage and the legal team at Baghdaserians Law Group Inc works hard to find creative ways to help clients keep what is important to them.