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The basics of property division in California

While most people do not get married anticipating a divorce, the truth is that some marriages simply do not work out. The question of what will happen to the property you shared with your spouse during the marriage can be one of the most contentious aspects to any divorce process.

Especially in a high-asset divorce, you want to ensure that you receive the property to which you are entitled after you and your spouse have parted. Accordingly, you need to understand the basics of property division in California.

Community property

Like many other states, California regards any property acquired during the marriage as community property. This means that each spouse owns all property acquired during the marriage equally with the other spouse.

Items that are bought and sold, such as furniture, vehicles, clothing, jewelry and homes, or anything that has value, such as bank accounts, retirement accounts, life insurance policies, stock holdings and even businesses are considered to be property.

During the divorce process, you should try to work with your soon-to-be ex to split the property you two share as equally as possible. Of course, not all couples are able to reach an agreement. In these cases, the court will determine how to divide the property according to California law.

Separate property

Whereas community property refers to the assets you acquired with your spouse during the course of your marriage, separate property refers to assets that you owned prior to the marriage. This can also include gifts or inheritances you received while married.

Additionally, if you and your spouse had a written agreement stating that certain property remained separate through the marriage, then the other spouse cannot make claims on this property during the divorce process.


Unless debts were acquired before the marriage, or there is a written agreement apportioning debt in the case of divorce, all debt that a couple incurred during their marriage is divided equally, regardless of whether the debt is in both parties names (i.e. a car loan in solely in the name of the wife.)

Quasi-community property

If you and your spouse acquired property outside the state of California, that state may not recognize the concept of community property. Nevertheless, California will still regard that property as community property for the purposes of the divorce in California.

Pre- and Post-nuptial agreements

As stated previously, if you and your spouse agree in writing that one of you will retain sole ownership of certain property during the course of the marriage, then that property will remain separate during the divorce.

By creating a prenuptial agreement before your marriage or a post-nuptial agreement afterwards, you and your spouse can specify these details. In most circumstances, the court will uphold the agreement, which can help expedite the property division process.

Your lawyer can help

If you are facing divorce and have concerns about what will happen to your property, your divorce attorney can help you understand the laws and how they apply to your situation.

A divorce can be emotionally and mentally taxing. Considering this, you need to ensure you have an advocate on your side with a clear and cool head. An experienced family law attorney will be able to support your legal needs throughout the divorce process and focus on your best interests.

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