California Community Property And Spousal Support
Spousal support orders are not mandatory when a couple divorces. When these orders are made, California courts consider the age, health and work histories of each spouse, among other factors.
Is California a Community Property State?
California is a community property state, meaning that property acquired during a marriage is considered marital property belonging to both spouses. It also means that most debts incurred during the marriage are attributed to both spouses when the time comes to pay them.
Property (both debts and assets) acquired before marriage, as well as assets received through gift or inheritance, are considered separate property belonging to that particular spouse. Student loans are another exception and are considered separate property no matter when they were incurred.
Spouses have an equal share of community property, meaning that if they divorce the assets are divided equally between them. However, parting spouses can agree to an unequal division. Unfortunately, any agreements between the spouses regarding debts are between them alone and not binding on creditors. For example, if one spouse agrees to assume all of the marital credit card debt but then fails to pay, creditors can come after either party for the full amount.
When Does Separate Property Become Community Property?
There are times when separate property can become community property in California. For example, a bank account solely belonging to one spouse can become marital property if the other spouse deposits money into it; or a house owned by one spouse before marriage can become marital property if both spouses pay the mortgage and other expenses. Some assets can be partially community and partially separate, such as a retirement account one spouse contributed to both before and during the marriage.
California Spousal Support
Alimony, known as spousal support in California, is money paid by one spouse to support the other after a divorce filing. While a support order is not made in every case, courts consider several factors in determining whether to make an award, such as:
- Age of the spouses
- Health of the spouses
- Spouses' work histories
- Spouses' earning capacity
- Length of the marriage
- Standard of living enjoyed during the marriage
A support order may not initially be necessary when a couple separates. California courts allow for a deferred spousal support request if support is needed later on. Once an order is made, a court can modify the payment amount based on the needs of the receiving spouse and the ability of the paying spouse to provide. Should a paying spouse fail to pay, courts can go as far as garnishing wages to ensure the receiving spouse is taken care of.
California Child Support
If children are involved, courts can order additional payments of child support. Each parent's income and the amount of time they each spend with the children factor into the determination of a child support amount. In fact, the guidelines for California child support are so established that computer programs exist to determine the amount.
The division of marital and separate property can be complex. Moreover, the determination of spousal and child support can be especially contentious. For these reasons, it is important to have the guidance of an experienced Orange County family law attorney to protect your assets and your rights.
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