California divorce law and the division of assets can be confusing. Some things are community property and belong to both of you, and some things are separate property and belong to only one of you – and worse, some things are “commingled,” which means part of them belong to both of you together and one of you separately.
Here’s a simpler look at California divorce law and division of assets.
California Divorce Law: Division of Assets
California is a community property state, which means the things that you and your spouse accumulate during the time that you’re married actually belong to both of you. That’s true even if one of you stays home to care for the kids and house and one of you works to earn all the money. If you and your spouse acquired money or belongings during the marriage, you are both entitled to your fair share of them.
But California also recognizes separate property, as well. Separate property refers to money or belongings that one of you had before you got married, or that was given to one of you alone during your marriage (like a gift or inheritance).
Commingled property is property that one of you brought into the marriage – like a house, in many cases – but that you continued to pay for while you were married (which is the time when the things that belong to you are community property). Businesses and other assets can also be considered commingled property.
What Does California Divorce Law Say About Division of Assets for Community Property?
Under California law, you and your spouse have to divide your community properly fairly when you divorce. That doesn’t necessarily mean a 50-50 split (although it can) – it just means that you have to be fair about splitting things up when you divorce.
Sometimes people are able to simplify property division by selling the marital home and splitting the proceeds, or by otherwise reaching agreements to “trade” things between each other. For example, one party may really want the restored sports car in the garage while the other really wants the living room furniture. In cases like these, the judge will typically let couples figure out what they each want to keep during the divorce, and as long as negotiations result in a reasonably fair settlement, the judge will most likely sign off on it.
Related: Community property basics
What California Law Says About Division of Separate Assets
If you brought something into your marriage – say, a car that was completely paid for – you can typically expect to leave your marriage with it. In some cases, you may have to prove to the court that an asset was yours before the marriage; you can talk to your attorney about your situation and she’ll give you guidance.
Things like inheritances and gifts given only to one party are typically separate assets, too, although there are exceptions. For example, if you inherited a large sum of money from your grandmother and it was left specifically to you and not your spouse, there’s a good chance that you don’t have to split it with your spouse when you divorce. However, there are always exceptions – so if you have a situation like this, talk to your attorney so you can get case-specific legal guidance.
What if You And Your Spouse Can’t Agree?
Your attorney will most likely encourage you to reach an agreement on property division with your spouse. There are several good reasons for this – one being that it’s much more cost-effective to agree with your spouse than it is to engage in a time-consuming court battle over your belongings – and it’s nearly always in your best interest to try to negotiate. Often, when people go to court and ask the judge to divide their property after filling out a Schedule of Assets and Debts, both parties walk away feeling as if they lost (even if they get many of the things they wanted). However, when you negotiate a settlement on your own, you’re more likely to walk away feeling reasonably satisfied with the outcome.
Do You Need to Talk to a Stockton Divorce Lawyer About California Divorce Law and Division of Assets?
If you need to talk to an attorney about the way California divorce law addresses division of assets, we can help. Call us right away at (209) 546-6870 or get in touch with a Stockton divorce attorney online to schedule a consultation today.