Dividing Property in a California Divorce

When it comes to dividing marital property in divorce, the United States uses two models: The equitable distribution model and the community property model. In California, we are one of a handful of states that use the “community property model.”

Under the community property model of distribution, all assets acquired during the course of the marriage are marital property and owned equally by both spouses, regardless of whose name is on the account, title, or asset.

For example, if a “John” was the breadwinner and his wife was a stay-at-home mother, all of John’s income earned during the couple’s marriage would be owned equally by his wife, “Vanessa,” even though John earned the money and deposited his checks into a separate bank account.

Community property and income includes:

  1. Property that both spouses acquired during their marriage.
  2. Separate property that both spouses agreed to convert to community property during their marriage.
  3. Property that does not classify as separate property.
  4. All wages, salaries, or other pay earned by the spouses during the marriage.
  5. Real estate that classifies as community property under California law.

Separate Property is Not Subject to Division

Unlike community property (which is owned by both spouses), separate property is not subject to division in a divorce. So, what classifies as separate property? Generally, separate property includes assets or property owned by a spouse before the marriage, or property the spouses received separately while married, by means of a gift or inheritance. It can also include property a spouse bought with separate funds during the marriage.

To learn more about community property, go to the IRS’s website.

Are Marital Assets Divided 50/50?

While community property is owned equally by both spouses, that does not mean everything is split down the middle. If a divorcing couple has a collaborative divorce, they can enter into any agreement they want as long as it’s fair and reasonable.

However, if a couple cannot reach a property division agreement, their case will have to go before a judge, who will divide the couple’s property according to California’s community property laws.

Suggested Reading: Does Remarriage End Spousal Support in California?

Contact Burch, Coulson & Shepard, LLP to schedule a case evaluation with an Orange County divorce attorney who is a certified family law specialist.