Property division can cause a lot of tension during the divorce process. California’s community property law directs the court to divide the marital estate in half, but there’s no guarantee that all assets will be designated as community property. More likely than not, the court will hold that one or both spouses are entitled to hold onto separate property. California also had a concept known as quasi community property. Given the confusion that can arise, the best way protect your property rights is to hire an experienced California divorce attorney.

California law holds that when two people enter in marriage or domestic partnership, they become one “community.” Everything earned or purchased and every debt accumulated is an asset or obligation of the marital community.

Separate property is anything acquired prior to the marriage, as well as gifts or inheritances received during the marriage that were clearly intended for only one of the spouses. Couples can designate property as separate through a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement. Finally, the court will consider whether any separate property by its owner’s use has been commingled with community property, and has lost its designation as separate.

There are four steps the court follows in dividing property during dissolution of a marriage or domestic partnership:

  • Identify the property — This is a compete inventory of all assets and debt, held separately or together
  • Designate the property — Assets and obligations are categorized as separate or community (and quasi community)
  • Value the community property — The court listens to arguments and decides on a price tag for each asset
  • Divide the community property equally — The goal of the court is to get as close as possible to a 50-50 split of community assets and debt.

Couples often find that the way the court divides assets is not how they would have preferred. To prevent an adverse court ruling, divorcing spouses have the opportunity to negotiate a fair property settlement agreement and present it to the court for approval. The court is generally happy to approve an agreement the couple has work out, unless it is so one-sided as to be unconscionable. However, if you cannot agree on how to split your assets, you will have to go to trial, which can be a grueling and expensive procedure.

To learn more about property division in California, contact an experienced divorce attorney today.