How Does Division of Property Work in a California Divorce?

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Property division is one of the most asked-about matters during California divorce cases. Most couples are curious as to how the courts would divide their property should the spouses be unable to manage asset distribution alone. California is unique in that it is one of just nine community property states in the country. Learning more about California’s division of property laws in a divorce case could help you and your spouse know what to expect in the future.

Community Property vs. Equitable Distribution

The two main types of property division laws are community property and equitable distribution. In a community property state, the courts will split community property – all assets and debts acquired during a marriage – evenly. In an equitable distribution state, property division will not necessarily be a 50/50 split. A judge may grant unequal division based on what is reasonable and fair according to the circumstances. In an equitable distribution state, a judge may consider many factors in his or her decision.

  • The duration of the marriage
  • Fault for the divorce
  • Incomes of both spouses
  • Abilities to earn income
  • Child custody
  • Each spouse’s contribution to the marriage
  • Each spouse’s physical health

In a community property state, the courts assume both parties’ equal rights to all wages, properties, assets and financial obligations the couple accumulated during the marriage. In a divorce, the courts hold that both parties shall split assets and debts down the middle. California’s property division laws can increase the odds of securing spousal maintenance, since one spouse may make less money yet still have the same amount of debt as when he or she shared income with the higher-earning spouse.

Can You Decide Property Division Yourself?

California’s community property division laws may not be ideal for all couples. Divvying up homes, businesses, shares, furniture, vehicles, bank accounts, pensions, retirement accounts and debts exactly in half could be unfair for one or both spouses. If one spouse worked hard to accumulate assets while the other did not, for example, the working spouse may wish for an arrangement other than a 50/50 split, such as 70/30.

It is possible to avoid California’s community property laws during a divorce case. However, both spouses must work together and agree upon the terms of the divorce. If you wish to prevent court intervention during your divorce, you and your spouse will need to compromise on issues such as property division, child support, parental responsibilities and spousal maintenance. If you can compromise on a property division arrangement you both believe is fair, a judge will most likely sign off on the plan.

How To Divide Your Property During a Divorce

Start dividing your property during a divorce case by making a master list of everything you and your spouse own together. Do not include any properties, assets or debts you had before marriage. These will remain separate properties. Also, do not include anything you own thanks to a personal inheritance or a gift someone gave you.

Then, list the market value of each item. This process may seem tedious, but it is something you will need to complete anyway before submitting your Schedule of Assets and Debts. Compare you and your spouse’s lists for any discrepancies. Settle any disagreements you may have regarding which properties are separate and which are community.

Next, start negotiating an agreement. You may find it easy to compromise if you and your spouse already want different assets or are willing to take responsibility for certain debts. Most couples, however, require assistance from a mediator to help negotiate property divisions. Using a mediator still puts you and your spouse in control of property division. Your divorce case will only be subject to court-imposed community property laws if it goes to trial. 

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