Community Property vs. Separate Property
California is a community property state. This means that the law presumes all property acquired during a marriage is owned equally by both spouses. Therefore, when it comes to dividing property during divorce, the court will distribute the marital property evenly.
A spouse is also entitled to a one-half interest in the other spouse’s regular income, provided that it doesn’t come from separate property. Separate property is a property that will not be divided after a divorce.
Separate property includes:
- Assets acquired prior to marriage
- Any property received during the marriage that is a gift or inheritance
- Property that is obtained following separation or after the divorce process is complete
In California, there is a third category of property known as quasi-community property. This refers to property owned or acquired in another state before moving to California, and it is generally treated the same way as community property.
Do I Have to Go To Court For My Property Division Case?
Like most legal disputes, if you want to avoid court, you can choose to negotiate terms for property division with your spouse outside of court instead of litigating the process in the courtroom.
If you do this, you can draft and sign a property division arrangement with your spouse stating how you intend to distribute property. If a court assesses your agreement and determines that it’s equitable, a judge can sign it, finalizing your property division case.
If you can’t reach an agreement with your spouse, you may need to take your property division dispute to court. If this happens, you and your spouse will each have the opportunity to present an inventory of all the separate and community property you own to the court, in addition to your case for how community property should be distributed. The court will evaluate the information and evidence presented to reach a conclusion and determine how property should be distributed between the spouses.
How Do I Prepare for Property Division?
If you’re about to engage in a property division dispute, you’ll want to compile a comprehensive list of all the personal and community property you own.
This list includes:
- Real estate holdings;
- Any valuable household items such as artwork, collections, guns, computers, office equipment, vehicles, clothing, furs, antiques, etc.;
- Financial assets, including cash, savings and checking accounts, investments, pension plans, retirement plans and IRAs, life insurance policies, trusts, etc.;
- Business assets, such as sole proprietorships, partnerships, professional degrees, etc.
As you inventory assets and liabilities, you may want to consider working with a financial professional specializing in asset valuation to determine how much each asset is worth. This can help you determine what would constitute an equitable division of property with your soon-to-be-ex.
It’s also worth noting that much more property will likely be considered community assets or liabilities than you are aware of. For example, if you own a business, income generated during your marriage may be considered community property that you must split equally with your spouse. Similarly, credit card debt acquired by one party may be judged as community property, even if only one person’s name is on the card.
What is Fiduciary Duty During Property Division?
During property division, it’s wise to keep an eye on how your soon-to-be-ex is handling property. Both parties have a fiduciary duty to one another, meaning that neither party can sell or tamper with property until the property division process is finalized.
However, many spouses try to hide assets during property division, engaging in behavior such as buying and hiding expensive artwork or other property that they can then sell post-divorce.
If you believe your spouse is hiding property from the court in an attempt to obtain a more favorable judgment, speak with your attorney. They can help you request a list of assets and liabilities from your spouse so you can determine whether they may be hiding assets. They may also be able to refer you to a forensic accountant or other professional who can evaluate whether your partner is being truthful about their property holdings by analyzing financial records.
Having an experienced attorney by your side can drastically increase your chances of obtaining a favorable outcome in your property division case.
Contact Our Property Division Attorneys in San Francisco Today
It is important that you handle your separate property appropriately in the event of a divorce so that it is not mixed with the community property. If you have questions about how to properly handle your property and what you are entitled to in your divorce, reach out to our San Francisco property division lawyers at Fenchel Family Law PC.
Contact Fenchel Family Law today to get started with our San Francisco property division lawyers.