How Property Division Works in California Divorces

Getting a divorce in California can become pretty complicated, especially when you have a variety of assets and/or debt.   As you may be aware, California in general requires property to be evenly distributed – California law is based on the community property system.  There are only a small number of other states that operate under this same type of law. Most states follow what's known as equitable distribution. The difference is in how the property is split: community property means property is distributed 50/50 while equitable distribution means who earned what gets what (based on a number of factors, of course). So, in that respect, the doctrine of community property may sound simple enough. But it's not. Far from it. 

At Hoffer Family Law Firm, we are here to make the divorce process, including property division, as painless as possible. Our team is knowledgeable and creative. Contact us today to learn more about our approach to divorce and property division.

In the meantime, below is a little more information on property division and what's at stake during a divorce in Thousand Oaks, California.

Understanding Property Division in a California Divorce

During your divorce, you and your spouse or domestic partner must distribute your property or else the court will do it for you. A formal order dividing assets must be filed with the court even if you informally split the property yourselves. So, there's no way getting around the division of property aspect of the divorce – especially if you have valuable assets and/or high debt: the division or distribution has to be completed,  so it should be done properly.  

Property for purposes of marriage and divorce are separated into categories known as:

  • community;
  • separate; and 
  • commingling (which is a mixed community and separate).

Community Property: What it Means in Thousand Oaks CA

Community property typically refers to all the property spouses or domestic partners accumulate during the marriage. Property refers to anything purchased or anything of value. Examples of community property include:

  • real estate (e.g., condominium, house, farm, vacation home – even if the title is only in one person's name)
  • rent (e.g., leasing a home to someone else)
  • a business
  •  a patent
  • motor vehicles (even if the title is in one person's name)
  • water vessels (e.g., boat)
  • furniture
  • bank accounts
  • cash
  • security deposits
  • pension plans
  • 401(k) plans
  • life insurance (if with cash value)
  • stocks.
  • intellectual property
  • domain names

Community property is pretty much anything you purchased or otherwise acquired during the marriage with the money you or your spouse or domestic partner earned. Many times you can distinguish between community and separate property by identifying the source of payment. If the item was purchased from income earned while married, then it is community property.

Quasi-Community Property

Quasi-community property is community property that was acquired while one or both of the spouses or domestic partners lived in another state and purchased or otherwise acquired property that would have been community property if purchased in California.

For example, maybe you and your spouse lived in Las Vegas for a brief period and one of you purchased a vehicle while there. Now, you live in California but are filing for divorce. That vehicle is quasi-community property and is treated as community property for purpose of division.

Exceptions to Community Property

Community property does not include gifts or inheritance that one or the other spouse or partner may acquire during the marriage.

For example, if the wife's father dies and she inherits $50,000, that inheritance is hers and will not be split in half. Further, if the wife purchases a vehicle with the $50,000, the vehicle is still separate property because it was purchased with the inheritance money.

Separate Property: What it Means in Thousand Oaks CA

Separate property can comprise of the following:

  • anything you own, including cash or income, prior to the marriage or domestic partnership;
  • anything you owned, acquired, or earned after the date of separation; or
  • any gifts or inheritance you received while in the marriage or domestic partnership.

Sometimes there is confusion, especially if something was purchased with "separate" income while married. Some people assume the purchased item is now community property. But in most cases, it is not. Below are examples of separate property to clarify what this means.

Examples of Separate Property

  • You put your own earnings into savings bonds prior to marriage – the bonds are separate property.
  • You had a condo before you were married and after marriage, you rented it out – that income from the rent is separate property.
  • You obtain a credit card after you and your partner were separated – this card and its debt is separate property.

Commingling Property: What it Means in Thousand Oaks CA

Commingled property happens when community and separate properties are mixed and it can make identifying what's what difficult.

For example, one spouse or partner may have had a house before the marriage or domestic partnership and then sold it. The profits from the sale were applied towards a down payment on a new house shared by the couple. The mortgage payments are then made by one or both of you. The equity on the house is commingled property because part of it is associated with the separate property used as the down payment and part of it is associated with community property in the form of mortgage payments.

Debt & Property Division

Debt works the same way that property and assets do: it is split down the middle pretty much if incurred during the marriage. Even if one spouse or domestic partner took on all the debt, like credit card debt, that debt is community property. In most situations, it will be divided in half. 

What are property agreements signed before or during a marriage?

Some couples sign property agreements before or after the marriage or domestic partnership. This refers to prenuptial and postnuptial agreements. These agreements are not always upheld in court.  If done correctly, they can and do make a difference in property division. You should always seek the advice of an experienced divorce attorney if you have questions or want to contest these types of agreements.

Contact an Experienced Divorce Lawyer in Thousand Oaks Today

If you have questions about how to divide your property,  call us now.  We can ensure that your property will be distributed correctly and in such a manner where you can move on with your life peacefully.   

Contact Hoffer Family Law Firm today to set up a consultation. 

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The information on this website is for general information purposes only. Nothing on this site should be taken as legal advice for any individual case or situation. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship.

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