415-293-8314

Property Division in a Community Property State (Like California)

Property Division in a Community Property State (Like California)

When Julie and Jackson married, they were both in their early 30s. Both were successional professionals who had lived on their own for years. After an 8-year marriage, they decided to divorce. Then the fun began – each had brought assets and debt into the marriage. Together, they had continued buying real estate, art, books, automobiles, and household goods. Their attorneys advised them of how property division works in community property state like California. Of course, they had never given it much thought until their divorce. Julie and Jackson were not sure whether their belongings were community property or not.

State Laws on Property Division

Each state in the United States has its own divorce laws, including laws about dividing the divorcing couple’s assets and debts. There are two primary ways to split marital property:
  • Equitable Distribution. Most states follow this type of property division. Courts grant marital assets to the parties as a fair and equitable distribution.
  • Community Property. A few states use the community property system. It is assumed that the spouses have equal interests in the marital property. Assets – and debts – may be split equally between the parties.
States even differ in the way they hand equitable distribution and community property. That’s why it is important to understand the laws of your state.

How Community Property Works in California

Deciding what is ‘property’ may be the first step in a divorce. Generally, property is anything that can be bought or sold or anything that has value. For example, Julie and Jackson own a house and each has a 401(k) plan. The house can be bought or sold, and the 401(k) plans have value. Therefore, the house and 401(k) plans are property that will be divided as part of the divorce settlement. A couple may negotiate a marital settlement agreement that splits their property to their satisfaction. Even so, it’s a good idea to have an experienced divorce attorney help. It’s not always easy to figure out what is property, community, or otherwise. If the parties are unable to reach an agreement, a court will divide their property based on California community property laws. According to California Family Code, courts generally start with the presumption that the couple’s community property will be divided equally. However, courts may weigh in on whether an asset is separate or community property. Also, the court may award more than 50% of the assets to one spouse based on “economic circumstances.” When one party commits domestic violence or misappropriates funds, courts also have the discretion to award more assets to the innocent spouse.

Community Property Division Is Not Always Easy.

Finding assets and determining their value, as well as whether the asset is separate property or community property, requires deep knowledge of California divorce laws. 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.