California has one of the more complicated sets of laws in the country regarding the division of assets and property upon a divorce or separation. When a court divides up assets and property between spouses, the judge will generally award each spouse their separate property, which is the property they entered into the marriage with, or property that was bought with separate property (e.g. when a wife uses her pre-marriage savings to buy a car), or property gifted to a specific spouse. Property that the spouses acquired during marriage through their labor, investment, or through joint gifts will be considered community property, however, and the judge will aim to award one-half of this community property to each spouse. Figuring out what is and is not community property can be extremely complex, especially in situations involving business interests and real estate. At the Law Offices of Andy Cook, our San Diego Community Property Lawyer can help explain the intricacies of community property laws.
How Community Property is Divided Upon Divorce or Separation
California law takes the approach that property acquired by either (or both) of the spouses during the marriage while living in California is community property to which both spouses share ownership as a community (property acquired while living outside of California is called quasi-community property and is also divided equally among the spouses upon divorce). This means, for example, that if one spouse works a high-paying job for twenty years during the marriage and is able to save $10,000,000 during that time from that income as well as purchase homes, vehicles, and other items with his or her income while the other spouse does not generate income, then all of the $10,000,000 as well as the homes, vehicles and other items will be considered community property and should be divided equally among the spouses upon a divorce or legal separation. A San Diego Community Property Lawyer can help with:
- The income generated by each spouse or just one spouse during a marriage
- Any property purchased with money made by a spouse during the marriage
- Retirement benefits such as pensions and 401k plans, even where held in only one spouse’s name
- Ownership of a business, including the intangible value of “goodwill”
- Assets acquired on debt during the marriage
- Educational degrees and professional licenses
It is important to note here that parties to a marriage are free to enter into an agreement providing for the division of their separate and community property as part of a divorce or separation in order to avoid the division of property by the court, and may even do so prior to the marriage through a prenuptial agreement, but the court will only honor such an agreement if it is fair under California law.
How Courts Determine What is Community Property Vs. Separate Property
Determining the difference between separate and community property gets very complicated in situations where an asset includes both community property and separate property, such as with real estate and business ownership. With real estate, the court may determine that a wife made a down payment on a home with separate property, but that the mortgage principal and interest payments were made with a mix of the wife’s separate property, the husband’s separate property, and the couple’s community property, and so the court will have to untangle how much of the present value of the home should be considered each party’s separate property and how much should be considered community property. Things can get even more complicated with a spouse’s business where a court might have to determine how much of a business’ present value came from effort and investment put into the business by a spouse before the marriage (meaning that portion of the value is separate property) vs. during the marriage (meaning that portion of the value of the business is community property).
Seek Experienced Legal Representation in California Community Property Matters
The courts have wide latitude in dividing assets and property upon legal separation or divorce, and the rules regarding community property can be quite complex, so it is in your interest to speak with an experienced attorney who can help you navigate the process of understanding community property, whether you are entering into a divorce or legal separation or are simply planning for the future. The lawyers at the Law Offices of Andy Cook possess the knowledge, skills and abilities necessary to provide you with the representation you need in this critical area.