Community Property FAQs

Community Property FAQs

California is a community property state. Everyone says that, but what does it really mean? The following questions tackle a few of the questions you may have about community property.

When one spouse makes more money than the other, will their property still be split 50/50?

Divorcing couples negotiate an agreement called a divorce settlement. The division of the community estate is decided by the couple and their attorneys. Couples may agree to split that is not 50/50.

However, when couples are unable to agree, then the court gets involved. To arrive at a fairly equal division of assets and debts, courts may award part of the community property to one party based on economic circumstances. And, remember that income is considered community property in California.

Is an inheritance received during a marriage considered community property?

Property that is inherited by one spouse usually remains the separate property of that spouse unless one of the following two conditions occurs:

Commingling. The nature of an inheritance changes if the receiving spouse mixes, or commingles, the inheritance with community property.

For example, if Rosie keeps the $120,000 cash she received from her grandmother’s estate in an account that only she owns, her husband John generally can’t take it in the divorce. If Rosie instead deposits the cash into the joint account she has with John, the inheritance is now community property.

Transmutation. This occurs when the spouse who received the inheritance takes action that shows an intent to make the inheritance community property.

Using the example above, Rosie receives the $120,000 inheritance and puts it in a separate account. However, she later uses the money to buy a home that she titles in both her and her spouse’s names. She has transmuted the inheritance from separate property to community property.

A spouse who has commingled or transmuted separate property can request reimbursement if the separate property contribution can be traced back to its source. Rosie could ask to have her $120,000 returned, but she would have to prove that the money came from her inheritance. Keeping accurate, up-to-date records is critical.

Does community debt include a spouse’s credit card bills?

Debts incurred during a marriage are typically community debts.

For example, John uses his credit card to buy a wardrobe full of Louis Vuitton while still married to Rosie. His credit card bills are considered community debt and will have an impact on the value of the community estate. When dividing up their assets and debts, John could take the Louis Vuitton and the debt. However, creditors don’t really care about divorce settlements and may come after Rosie for payment if John defaults.

Is a house purchased by one spouse before marriage considered community property?

When spouses buy a house together using community funds, the house is community property. A house purchased by one spouse before the marriage is the separate property of that spouse.

However, the issue can become complicated if community funds were used for the mortgage or other house-related expenses. Also, the spouse may be found to have an interest in the home if the couple was married for a long period of time.

Call to learn more about community property.

It’s not always easy to understand which assets are considered community property and which ones are not. An experienced California divorce attorney can help you understand how much financial information needs to be disclosed.

Judy Burger is a California Certified Family Law Specialist, and founder of the Law Offices of Judy L. Burger. Please call our offices at 415-293-8314 to set up an appointment with one of our attorneys. We assist clients along the Northern to Central California Coast.

Dealing with Harassment During Divorce

Dealing with Harassment During Divorce

Harassment can take many forms. During an emotional time, such as a divorce, power struggles and frustration can lead to disturbing behavior from your spouse. Though it may seem like just one more hurdle to overcome, there are ways of dealing with harassment during your divorce.

What Behavior Rises to the Level of Harassment?

California Code of Civil Procedure 527.6 defines harassment as “unlawful violence, a credible threat of violence, or a knowing and willful course of conduct directed at a specific person that seriously alarms, annoys, or harasses the person …”

That may sound vague, but the Code also defines “course of conduct” by listing the following behaviors:

  • Following or stalking an individual
  • Making harassing telephone calls to an individual
  • Sending harassing correspondence to an individual by any means, including, but not limited to, the use of public or private mails, interoffice mail, facsimile, or email.

If someone is threatening you, make sure you are in a safe place. Then, seek court intervention.

What Kind of Order Might Help?

A restraining order is often used to curb such harassing behavior. There are four types of restraining orders:

  1. Domestic violence;
  2. Civil harassment;
  3. Elder abuse; and
  4. Workplace violence.

Also, protective orders may be temporary (usually for 20-25 days), permanent (lasting for up to 5 years), or criminal (if the harasser is charged with a crime, for 3 years after the case is over).

When harassment is done by a spouse, ex-spouse, registered domestic partner, someone you formerly dated or lived with as more than roommates, or a close relative, you may ask for a domestic violence restraining order.

However, when harassment does not meet the criteria for domestic violence, a civil harassment restraining order can be used to stop the abuse.

What Can a Restraining Order Do?

First, it’s important to understand the people involved in the restraining order, also called a protective order. The person asking for the order is the “protected person.” Often, other people are included as protected persons, including family members or others living with a protected person. The person who is accused of harassment is the “restrained person.”

A protective order may seek to stop specific behaviors, like stalking, hitting, or destroying personal property. In addition, some orders require the restrained person to stay a certain distance away from the protected persons. For example, a spouse may be told to stop emailing their spouse during a divorce and to stay at least 100 yards away from the children’s school.

When a restrained person violates a protective order, consequences include paying a fine, going to jail, or both.

Take Care of You.

If you are being harassed, abused, or threatened, help is available:

  • Ask trusted friends and family members to help.
  • Contact your local domestic violence shelter.
  • Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-7233).
  • Call 911 if you or a loved one is in immediate danger.

You Don’t Have to Do This Alone.

Divorces are hard on everyone involved. We’re here to help. Please call us at (415) 293-8314 to schedule a confidential appointment with one of our attorneys.

Ms. Burger is a California Certified Family Law Specialist and founder of the Law Offices of Judy L. Burger. We assist clients in California’s Northern to Central Cost, including San Francisco, Gold River, Santa Barbara, Ventura/Oxnard, and surrounding communities.

The Effect of Long-Term Marriage on Divorce Settlements

The Effect of Long-Term Marriage on Divorce Settlements

Jack and Diane’s marriage lasted much longer than the average marriage. But after 32 years, they decided to call it quits. They knew their adult children would be fine, but really had no idea how their long-term marriage would affect their divorce settlement.

Divorce Settlements, in General.

The parties to a divorce agree on a divorce settlement, or the court irons out the details for them. Typically, such settlements include custody and visitation agreements, child support, division of assets and debts, and spousal support.

For issues involving children, courts look for an arrangement that best suits the children’s needs.

When it comes to assets and debts, California is a community property state. This means that a couple’s debts and property are generally considered to be owned 50-50, although there are exceptions.

Spousal support is based on factors like:

  • The standard of living established during the marriage.
  • Whether the supported party contributed to supporting party’s career.
  • The supporting spouse’s ability to pay.
  • Each spouse’s needs.
  • Each spouse’s assets and obligations.
  • The duration of marriage.
  • Whether supported spouse can work without harming children.

This is not the complete list contained in the California Family Code 4320. However, in this blog, we are looking at how people married for over 10 years fare in a divorce. The length of the marriage is only one factor in negotiating a settlement.

So, What’s Different About Long-Term Marriages?

Marriages that last less than 10 years are generally thought of a short-term when it comes to calculating spousal support. When one spouse needs support from the other, courts often give the needy spouse alimony for one half the duration of the marriage. Importantly, the court orders a time period wherein the court can make further decisions related to alimony. For example, for a marriage of 8 years, the supported spouse might receive alimony for 4 years, but the court retains jurisdiction for only 2.

A supported spouse leaving a long-term marriage may receive support for half the duration of the marriage. Courts tend to be more flexible in longer-lasting marriages. As for jurisdiction, the court can make decisions about alimony for this divorce indefinitely. If the supported spouse becomes ill while receiving support, the court could order additional support after taking all factors into consideration.

Years Can Make a Difference.

If you’re facing divorce, how long you remained married influences your divorce settlement. However, courts are not required to abide by a 10-year rule. It’s just a very common measurement. It’s best to speak with an attorney to make sure you receive everything to which you are entitled.

Judy Burger is a California Certified Family Law Specialist, and founder of the Law Offices of Judy L. Burger. Please call our offices at 415-293-8314 to set up an appointment with one of our attorneys. We assist clients along the Northern to Central California Coast.
Handling Custody When a Child Has Three Parents

Handling Custody When a Child Has Three Parents

Parentage is not always easy to determine in a divorce. Custody issues may arise when a child’s biological parents separate, then reconcile. Sometimes a third party, not biologically related to the child, takes on the role of parent. When a child has three or more parents, how will courts make difficult, yet important, custody decisions?

When Biology Isn’t Enough.

One court case brought up an interesting situation involving two biological parents who were not married and one parent’s spouse. The case of In re M.C. involved a child whose mother conceived a child with her boyfriend, but married her girlfriend before the child was born. The mother’s wife began serving as parent of the baby. The biological father acknowledged the child and provided some financial support.

The mother separated from her spouse, and then was incarcerated. The child went into foster care. Courts trying to determine custody faced a dilemma. All three parents could be considered to be a parent to the child. However, the mother could not care for the child, and her wife had no biological link to the child. The biological father lived in another state and had little to no contact with the child. California law at that time forced judges to recognize only two parents for a child.

California Senate Bill No. 274 – The Third Parent Law.

After In re M.C., the California legislature proposed and passed a law authorizing a court to determine that a child may have more than two parents. Courts must look closely at parent-child bonds, instead of just the biology of the situation.

Sometimes denying custody to a person with a parent-child bond would harm the child. Court may now may recognize more than two parents. Although three-parent families are most often talked about, the law does not limit courts to determining a specific number of parents.

Custody, Visitation, and Support.

In any divorce proceeding involving children, the courts make determinations based on the best interests of the children. Three-parent family situations are no different.

Allocation of custody between parents, no matter how many, is based factors like the health, safety, and welfare of the child.

Custody and visitation arrangements between parents should focus on providing a stable environment for the children. A parent deemed unfit by the court may be excluded from joint legal or physical custody. Visitation may be limited or supervised for any of the multiple parents.

Learn More About Filing for Divorce.

It doesn’t matter why the child has three parents. What matters, what always matters in child custody issues, is that everything be done with the best interests of the child in mind.

The attorneys at the Law Offices of Judy L. Burger are experienced at all phases of divorce proceedings. Call us at 415-293-8314 to schedule a private appointment or visit our website. We maintain offices in San Francisco, Marin County, Oakland, Santa Barbara, Ventura/Oxnard, San Jose, Gold River (Sacramento), Roseville, and surrounding communities.

spousal support taxes

How is Spousal Support Taxed?

After months of uncertainty the court finally entered a judgment in your divorce proceedings. To your relief, the judgment included a spousal support order and you’ve been receiving payments from your former spouse for about a year. The payments have come in handy and you’ve used that money for important household bills. All is well until your accountant calls to tell you that you owe hundreds of dollars in taxes. Unfortunately, when you started receiving spousal support, you didn’t realize that you would be taxed on those payments. This is a mistake that could cost you thousands.

Taxation is an important consideration that is often overlooked regarding spousal support. Both the party ordered to pay spousal support and the person receiving the support should be aware of the tax consequences of the support award in order to prepare for any tax ramifications once payments begin. Ideally, both federal and state tax implications should be considered during divorce or separation proceedings so a spousal support agreement may be reached that minimizes the tax consequences for all parties involved.

There are both federal and state tax implications for spousal support awards. Usually, spousal support is tax deductible for the person who is paying spousal support. The spousal support payments received by the supported spouse are considered to be taxable income. This is only the case for couples who have a final court order. If a couple does not have a final court order of legal separation or divorce, spousal support payments are considered gifts for tax purposes which are not deductible for the paying party nor considered income for the receiving party.

For federal tax purposes, strict IRS guidelines must be followed for the spousal support payments to be tax-deductible. The support payments must be 1) authorized by a court order for divorce or legal separation; 2) in cash; 3) not part of a property division or child support payment; and 4) paid only while the spouses are not members of the same household. 

Each state has its own guidelines for taxation of spousal support. In California, spousal support is tax-deductible for the paying spouse and taxable for the receiving spouse, as long as the spouses file separate state tax returns. 

The law is more complicated when it relates to partner support.  Federal tax laws were not changed to recognize domestic partners and states other than California may not have laws that consider the legal validity of a domestic partnership. A California attorney experienced with issues relating to domestic partnerships can advise you on the federal and state tax implications of a partner support award. 


When seeking a spousal support award, it is imperative to retain an attorney who is knowledgeable about how to structure support awards to ensure the best possible tax benefits.   The knowledgeable attorneys at the Law Offices of Judy L. Burger are experienced with spousal and partner support awards and the tax implications.  Call us now at (415) 293-8314 to schedule your private appointment regarding your California divorce case or visit us online to find out more about how we can help.
spousal support in California

How Long Does Spousal Support Last?

A party to a divorce or separation case in California may request that the court order support as part of a final divorce or separation decree.  For a spousal or partner support award, one party petitions the court to request that the other party support him or her during the pendency of proceedings and after.  But questions sometimes arise regarding how long these support awards last and the factors the court considers. 

The length of a marriage is one of the primary factors that a court considers when fashioning a permanent spousal support award and determining a time period. Under California Family Code 4320, the court’s goal is that a supported party will be able to support themselves within a “reasonable period of time.” Generally that is considered to be one-half of the length of the entire marriage. So if a marriage lasted 8 years, a spousal support award may last for 4 years. This is not a requirement, however, under California law a judge can order that a spousal support award last for as long as the judge deems necessary. 

There is an important exception.  California Family Code Section 4336 deals with a marriage or partnership of a “long duration” (usually 10 years or more).  In this case, the judge may not set an end date to the spousal or partner support and will retain jurisdiction for an indefinite period of time. 

The calculation of the length of the marriage or domestic partnership is generally from the date of the marriage to the date of the separation. The date of separation is important when deciding issues of spousal or partner support.  If the parties in a divorce or separation case can’t agree on the date of separation, the judge may have to decide the date for them.  The judge may also consider periods of separation when determining if a marriage is of “long duration” under California law.

Spousal support usually ends on the date decreed by the court in the final order or judgment. It can also end when one of the spouses or domestic partners dies or when the person receiving the support remarries or registers a new domestic partnership.


As detailed above, spousal and partner support involves complicated legal issues and date complications. Arguments may need to be submitted to the court regarding dates of separation as these can have a significant impact on the amount of a support award.  If you are facing divorce or separation proceedings you need a knowledgeable and experienced California divorce attorney to fight for your rights. Visit our website to learn more or call us today at (415) 293-8314 to set up a personal, confidential consultation.

What is the Difference Between Temporary Spousal Support and Permanent Spousal Support?

The term “spousal support” is discussed frequently regarding California divorces, but many people aren’t aware that there are different types of spousal support.  In California, a court can award either temporary or permanent spousal support depending on the situation.

As a preliminary matter, spousal or partner support in California cannot be ordered by a judge until a court case is started. The court case is usually a divorce, legal separation or annulment, but can also be a domestic violence restraining order. The difference between a “temporary” and “permanent” support order is the time that it is entered and the duration.

A spouse or domestic partner can request a support order to be paid while the case is going on.  This is a “temporary” support order as it is established temporarily to support a party during the case duration. This type of order is known under California law as a “temporary spousal support order” or a “temporary partner support order.” Particularly in situations involving domestic violence, a temporary support order is vital to ensuring the financial stability of a party during the course of proceedings.

For temporary spousal or partners support, a formula is often used to calculate the amount.  This formula can vary depending on which California county you are in. The court’s local rules for each county should explain how temporary support is calculated. 

As an example, in Marin County, the local rules state that the presumed amount of temporary spousal support is 40% of the net income of the party paying support, minus 50% of the net income of the supported party.  In the case where the supported party is also receiving child support, those percentages change to 35% of the net income of the payor (minus child support) minus 45% of the net income of the supported party (without considering child support received). 

As you can see, the calculation of temporary spousal support can be complicated and varies based on the county in which your case is pending.  This is why it is so important to hire an experienced divorce attorney to help you with the calculations of spousal support as soon as you file your case.

A “permanent” spousal or partner support order is usually entered at the end of a case when the judge makes a final determination regarding an award or the parties enter into a binding agreement.  This order will become part of the final divorce or separation decree and judgment.  There are various factors set out by California law that a judge will consider when determining an award of permanent spousal or partner support.  For more information on those factors, see our previous blog post here.

If you want to learn more about whether you qualify for spousal or partner support in your California divorce, separation, annulment, or domestic violence case, contact the attorneys at the Law Offices of Judy L. Burger right away.  Our office has years of experience helping clients obtain the support they deserve.  Call us now at (415) 293-8314.

permanent spousal support

Permanent Spousal Support: What Factors do Courts Consider?

In California, a court can award one party permanent support as part of divorce proceedings. This award is called “spousal support” for married couples and “partner support” for domestic partnerships. It is also sometimes referred to as “alimony.” 

California law has established specific requirements to guide judges in determining awards of spousal support in divorce proceedings. Prior to entering an award of permanent spousal support, a California judge is required to consider the factors set forth in California Family Code Section 4320

First, the judge will look at the earning potential of each party and decide whether they can maintain the same standard of living established during the marriage.  As part of this the judge will look at the marketable skills of the party asking for support, the time and expense it will take a supported party to develop marketable skills, and the impact of periods of unemployment on the supported party’s future job prospects (for example, a parent who stayed home with the children for several years and may now have trouble finding a job).

The judge will then consider the following factors:

  • Whether the party seeking support helped the other person obtain training, education, a career position, or licensing;
  • Whether the supporting party can afford to pay spousal support. This includes a consideration of their earning capacity, assets, and standard of living;
  • Each party’s monetary needs to maintain the same standard of living;
  • The debts and assets of each party, including separate property;
  • How long the marriage lasted;
  • Whether or not the party seeking support can work full-time without interfering with the interests of dependent children;
  • The health and age of the parties;
  • Documented evidence of any history of domestic violence or criminal convictions of an abusive spouse; and
  • Tax consequences to each party.

After considering these factors, the judge will balance the hardships to all parties and review any other factors that the court believes are fair and relevant to the determination.  The judge will then determine an award for spousal or partner support that will become a part of the final divorce or legal separation order. 

Spousal support determinations in California involve complex legal issues.  It is vital for you to be represented by an experienced California divorce attorney to ensure that you receive the awards that you deserve.  The attorneys at the Law Offices of Judy L. Burger have years of experience obtaining favorable support awards for their clients. Call today to find out how our attorneys can help: (415) 293-8314.

 

Termination of a Domestic Partership in California

California’s legal options for divorce extend to domestic partnerships registered in California as well as in other states. Termination of a domestic partnership in California is similar to the termination of a marriage with a few differences.

In order to terminate a marriage, California generally requires that a couple have resided in the state for at least 6 months prior to filing for divorce and at least three months in the county in which the divorce is filed. In the case of a domestic partnership that was not registered in California, these same residency requirements apply.

If the domestic partnership was registered in California, there are no residency requirements for dissolution of the partnership. This includes domestic partnerships that were registered in California where the parties no longer live in California or have never lived in California. By registering the domestic partnership in California, the parties have consented to California jurisdiction and no further residency is required. Note, however, that if neither party lives in California, the judge may have issues with ruling on matters such as partner support, debt and property, and child support. This is just one of the reasons why it is important to discuss your case with a lawyer with extensive experience with domestic partnership laws.

If the domestic partnership has been registered for less than 5 years, it may qualify for a “summary dissolution.” In order to qualify for a “summary dissolution” the following requirements apply:

• Both parties are in agreement to terminate the domestic partnership.
• The domestic partnership has been registered for less than 5 years.
• No children were born or adopted during the domestic partnership and no party is currently pregnant.
• Neither party own any part of land or buildings.
• Neither party rents any land or buildings (other than a current residence so long as it is less than a 1-year lease and there is no option to buy).
• The partners have not acquired more than $6,000 in debts since the date of registration of the domestic partnership (not including car loans).
• The total amount of property acquired during the domestic partnership is less than $41,000 (not including cars).
• Neither party has separate property worth more than $41,000 (not including cars).
• No partner is requesting support from the other.
• Both parties have signed an agreement dividing all of their debts and property or they attest that they have no debts or property together.

It is important to discuss the pros and cons of filing for dissolution of a domestic partnership with an experienced family law attorney. As termination of domestic partnerships in California presents unique issues, it is vital to seek the counsel of lawyers with extensive knowledge of California domestic partnership laws. Call the attorneys at the Law Offices of Judy L. Burger to find out how they can help you with your domestic partnership questions or other family law issues: (415) 293-8314.

What Information Do I Have to Provide with my Preliminary Disclosures?

As discussed in the previous blog post, Preliminary Disclosures are required for all
divorces in California. Preliminary Disclosures are a set of forms and documents that each party in a divorce must give to the other in writing providing information regarding all assets, debts, income and expenses.

Three forms are required by California law to be included as part of the Preliminary Disclosures: 1) Declaration of Disclosure (FL-140), 2) Schedule of Assets and Debts (FL-141), and 3) Income and Expense Declaration (FL-150).

Declaration of Disclosure
The Declaration of Disclosure form (FL-140) is a cover sheet signed by the party providing the disclosure under penalty of perjury. It attests that the Schedule of Assets and Debts and the Income and Expense Declaration are attached. It further requires that additional information be attached apart from the forms:
• The last 2 years of tax returns;
• A written statement of material facts relating to valuation of community property;
• A written statement of material facts relating to community obligations;
• A written statement regarding any investment opportunity, business opportunity, or other income-producing opportunity presented since the date of separation that results from any investment, significant business, or other income-producing opportunity from the date of marriage to the date of separation.

Schedule of Assets and Debts
The Schedule of Assets and Debt (FL-142) is a four-page form with questions related to the assets and debts of the person completing the form. The form requires disclosure of all assets and debts regardless of whether they are community or separate property. The form also requests an estimated value of the assets as of the date of completing the disclosure form and requires that statements be attached as proof of valuation. A party may indicate on the form whether they believe an asset to be separate property by annotating the asset with a “P” for “Petitioner” (the person who filed the divorce petition) or an “R” for “Respondent” (the person responding to the divorce petition).

Income and Expense Declaration
The Income and Expense Declaration requires a listing of a party’s income from all sources and expenses. This is different from the Schedule of Assets and Debts as it provides a “snapshot” of a party’s monthly inflow and outflow. The form has very specific questions that must be answered including special hardships, attorneys’ fees, and average monthly expenses. Like the Schedule of Assets and Debts, the Income and Expense Declaration also requires that supporting documentation be attached.

It is extremely important to be accurate in the completion of all of the disclosure forms. Providing incorrect or incomplete information can result in the judge awarding the entire asset omitted to the other party or an award of attorneys’ fees.

Remember that the “disclosure” requirement continues throughout the divorce process until the divorce is final. This means that if anything changes regarding assets, debt, income or expenses after the filing of the Preliminary Disclosures, you must fill out and serve a new set of disclosure forms on the other party to advise them of the new information. You would also then let the court know that you have filed updated disclosures by filing another Declaration Regarding Service of Declaration of Disclosure (FL-141) with the court.

The financial disclosure requirements for California divorces are very specific and the penalties for providing inaccurate or incomplete information are serious. It is important to hire an experienced California divorce attorney to assist you with completing these forms as part of the divorce process. Call (415) 293-8314 to find out how the knowledgeable divorce attorneys at the Law Offices of Judy L. Burger can help.