Marriage is the ultimate partnership. But it’s more than just two people in love forming a union of two souls. Each person usually brings along property, money, and personal possessions. At least some of that property is considered ‘separate property.’ As a marriage progresses, couples also acquire property, some of which might be intended to be the property of only one member of the couple. It’s important to understand about keeping property separate during a marriage.
California is a community property state, meaning that property acquired by a couple is considered the property of both partners. The same principle applies to debt, with each partner usually being held accountable for debt owed by either partner.
Sometimes parties will bring separate property into a marriage or domestic partnership. During the marriage, gifts or inheritance to one partner are also considered separate property, meaning it’s the property of the person who received the gift or inheritance.
Property and debts acquired after the date you and your partner enter into a separation is also considered separate property.
Commingling of Property
As you might imagine, determining whether something is separate property or community property can be difficult. For example, perhaps one spouse uses their own money to buy a house before marrying. However, during the marriage, mortgage payments were made using money earned by both spouses. Equity built up during the marriage is community property, but the down payment on the house is still separate property.
Keeping it Separate.
Fortunately, there are ways to maintain separate property during a marriage:
- Be careful titling financial accounts and real property. For example, don’t automatically add your new spouse’s name to property you obtained before your marriage.
- Income and dividends from separate property should be kept separate.
- Use separate income to maintain separate property.
- Don’t commingle inherited property and gifts.
- Maintain accurate records of what property was acquired before and during the marriage.
When spouses own property in more than one state, or have lived and worked in a state other than California during their marriage, the separate property/ community property debate becomes more complex.To discuss how to handle separate and community property issues, please call us at 415-293-8314. The attorneys at the Law Offices of Judy L. Burger assist clients in San Francisco, Marin County, Santa Barbara, Ventura/Oxnard, San Jose, Gold River (Sacramento), Roseville, and surrounding communities.