When it comes to how property is divided in a California divorce, all assets fall into two general categories: Community property and Separate property.
Community property is any property (real or personal) that was purchased or acquired by either spouse during the marriage and subject to a 50/50 split in the event of a divorce. Therefore, if either spouse purchases a house, a vehicle, a bedroom set, or any other material thing during marriage, it is presumed to be community property. And if the parties divorce, each spouse has a one-half ownership interest in the property, regardless of whose name is on title.
Separate property is any property (real or personal) that was purchased or acquired by a spouse either before marriage or after separation. Any property that is deemed the separate property of a spouse is not subject to a division; the spouse who acquired it would be the sole owner.
Of course, property issues in a divorce matter can get exponentially more complicated and a vast number of possible scenarios can arise. There are exceptions to the community property rule; it is possible to change community property to separate property and vice versa during the marriage; an asset can be both a community asset and a separate asset at the same time; a spouse's separate property can still trigger reimbursement claims; and certain kinds of assets can present unique problems of its own (i.e., a family business).
It is also worth mentioning that even the income and wages that you earn during the marriage is presumed to be a community asset. This means that any funds you have sitting in a savings or checking account can be divided in a divorce. Keep in mind this also includes any retirement accounts you had during the marriage.
The issue of property division tends to be more prominent among longer marriages where the spouses had more time to accumulate property. What also may accumulate during the marriage is debt, which is treated very similarly to assets. Any and all debts during the marriage, regardless of you who incurred it, is subject to equal division between the spouses. And all separate debt stays with the spouse who incurred it.
If you are going through a divorce or legal separation where property is involved, or have questions about your rights, please contact our attorneys at Lee Lyu Martell. We are here to help. Our telephone number is (909) 381-0074.