California is a “community property state.” That means that anything you and your spouse have acquired during marriage is subject to equal division and distribution upon divorce. Property acquired before marriage, on the other hand, is considered “separate property” and is not subject to division. There are other exceptions to community property, such as property that falls under a prenuptial agreement or assets provided as a gift or inheritance to either party. A skilled San Diego divorce attorney is critical in helping to distinguish what category your items and land fall under.
Division of property can be a confusing process, particularly when trying to identify items which were purchased before and after the marriage. Memories can be faulty and this can lead to even more fights between your spouse and yourself. Hiring a San Diego divorce attorney can help keep things civil. Your lawyer can help get to the bottom of your purchase dates and discover all assets exempt from equitable division. A good San Diego divorce attorney can help you maintain an optimum relationship with your spouse.
Understanding California’s Community Property Laws
According to California Family Code § 2550, in the event of a divorce or legal separation, you and your spouse will get an equal share of any joint assets and debts. It is unique when compared against most other states that divide marital property through the process of “equitable distribution”. Here, factors such as the length of marriage, income of each spouse, age and health of each spouse, and their future employability is considered. In California, a 50/50 split applies.
Only nine American states follow community property laws, with Alaska an ‘opt-in’ state that allows couples the option to choose a community property regime. What’s common across all states is that property division starts by identifying property as a community or a separate asset.
Distinguishing Between Community and Separate Property in California
As already stated, community property covers all property that you and your spouse bought during your marriage, no matter which one of you purchased them. It includes any asset you acquired when living out of state. Any debts incurred during the marriage is also considered joint liability and subject to division. It covers any debt taken on during the marriage regardless of which spouse incurred it.
Examples of community property:
- Income from employment, such as wages, salaries, tips, and overtime
- Vehicles bought during the marriage
- Real estate property, such as a house or land, and the rent or profits from it
- Personal belongings, such as furniture, electronics, cookware, decorations, and art
- Bank accounts and investment accounts
Examples of community property division:
You set up a business during the marriage. Your spouse and you applied for a loan to establish said business and paid it off. The business is valued at $200,000, which means each spouse’s community interest is $100,000.
You and your spouse deposit your paychecks in a joint account. The money deposited in this account is considered community funds. If you use the money to buy a second car, you cannot keep the car and it will be considered community property.
If your spouse has a credit card balance of $2,000 that was accumulated during your marriage, then each of you is responsible for $1,000. The exception is if your spouse runs up the balance by spending lavishly on a vacation before the divorce is completed, in which case the court may ask them to pay it.
Note: Reckless spending of marital assets to the detriment of the other spouse, or what’s known as wasteful dissipation, is not rare. Divorce, being a stressful event, can sometimes motivate separating couples to act vindictively, particularly in financial matters. It’s important to keep excessive spending in check to avoid allegations of wasteful dissipation, which can have consequences for your divorce settlement. Our asset division attorney will make you aware of what can potentially impact the outcome of your property settlement.
Let’s now move on to understanding what a separate property is. Any property you owned prior to your marriage is separate property. It includes gifts and inheritances made specifically to your or your spouse. It is not equally divided between you and your spouse during a divorce. That said, the distinction between separate and community property is not clear and distinct. Both can be intermixed during the marriage, becoming what’s known as commingled property.
For example, a house you purchased before your marriage is your separate property. If, after your marriage, you used the money in your joint account with your husband to remodel that home, your spouse will gain an interest in the home’s value.
The Role of an Experienced San Diego Divorce Attorney in Property Division
Identifying marital and separate property during a divorce can be complicated and contentious. With other matters like child custody and spousal support also requiring your attention, it’s crucial that you protect your own interests and consider your spouse’s well-being. Our San Diego property division lawyer explains property division laws apply to your case and helps you and your spouse divide up your marital assets in a fair and equitable way.
We have experience handling complex divorce cases involving businesses and intellectual property, as well as commingled property, which is more likely if you’ve been married for long. Even simple property division cases involving fewer marital assets requires time and relevant legal expertise. After a thorough investigation of your case and in consultation with appraisers and other experts, we will perform an accurate evaluation of your property and debt.
Remember, any misstep taken at this juncture can affect your financial well-being and life after your divorce. By providing you a clear picture of your marital assets and working towards an equitable division, our property division attorneys help protect your financial future.
Keeping the Peace During Property Division with a San Diego Family Attorney
You’ve worked hard to own assets and some of them have emotional value for you. Try to avoid letting your attachments to the assets you hold dear to your heart affect the property division. Only by working together with your spouse can you understand the financial and emotional investment in marital property. If your case goes to court, the judge will not care about your emotions and decide based on what was acquired during your marriage. Our asset division attorney will help you maintain an optimum relationship with your spouse to reach a decision both you can live with.
It’s worth mentioning that hiding marital property has legal consequences. In case of a dispute, the judge will order you to pay legal expenses to your spouse for the expenses incurred to trace the assets. You may also be forced to give up the property you hid from your spouse.
Contact Us To Speak With A Property Division Lawyer Today!
Our team has helped separating couples sail through with their property division. In the rare case that you still agree to disagree with your spouse, we defend your interests in the court. Schedule your appointment with a San Diego property division lawyer from our team today.
At Garwood Reeves, any San Diego family lawyer from our firm can help you pick up the pieces after your divorce. Call today to schedule your initial consultation.