California Divorce: How Protecting Your Property Can Still Cost You

In a divorce, people are often bogged down with practical concerns alongside their emotional strain. There are so many uncertainties surrounding property and support. People feel connected to what they believe is “theirs,” and they don’t want to part with it.

You can fight for your property in a divorce. If you, for instance, refuse to give up the home, you can make a stand. With the help of a good attorney, you could even succeed in keeping it. However, because of California’s property division model, keeping your property still comes with a price.

How Dividing Property Works in a Divorce

Most states in the Union use an “equitable division” model for distributing assets. “Equitable” is a synonym for “fair.” Essentially, the court isn’t concerned about whose name is on the lease. They give property to the party they believe is most deserving.

California does not use this model. Along with only nine other states, California operates under a “community property division” model. Many regard this system as outdated, but some believe it is the fairer option. Here’s how it works.

The court assumes that anything purchased during the marriage belongs to both parties. As co-owners, each spouse is entitled to 50% of the value of this “marital property.” This means that your spouse can come for your stamp collection, at least any stamp you bought during the marriage.

The court calculates the total financial value of the marriage, from savings to debt to physical property. Afterward, it splits that value among the spouses 50/50.

The Cost of Keeping Your Property

The community property model allows for giving physical property to the most deserving spouse. However, California still expects each party to walk away with 50% of the assets. If you keep the house, car, jewelry, or family pet, you will be expected to compensate your spouse in some way. Here are some possible solutions the court may order.

Courts Can Order a Physical Trade

The value of an item can be used as the basis of an equal split. For example, imagine the home is valued at $250,000. For one spouse to keep it, they would owe the other $125,000. That money could come in the form of physical property. They could, for example, give the other spouse expensive collectibles, the car, and so forth up to the value of $125,000.

Courts Can Order Payment

One spouse keeps the property and gives the other half its value. Even if you do keep the home, you could be asked to pay the other spouse at least $125,000.

Courts Can Order You to Sell the Property

In this case, the only trade is financial. If property is so strongly disputed that neither party can be satisfied, courts may just tell you to sell it off and split the profits.

Courts can use any combination of the above solutions. You may trade for one item, pay for another, and sell off the third.

How to Argue for Your Property

You can fight for what’s yours, and courts can be convinced to give it to you. Even though you are paying for half its value, you must demonstrate that you are deserving of the asset. To be successful, you must consider how courts think about entitlement.

You Can Use the Length of the Marriage

When you are married to someone, you are legally family. As such, the longer you are married, the more entwined you are with them. Just by being present throughout the marriage, you are assumed to have been supportive and a contributing member of the household.

The longer the marriage, the more entitled you may be to property. Because this property was in your life for several years, you can make a case that it is rightfully yours.

You Can Demonstrate Your Direct Contribution to the Property

Remember, courts aren’t interested in how the property was obtained. They are concerned with who used it and contributed to it. Let’s say you love the family dog and can’t part with her. Since pets are technically property, you’ll need to make a case that you deserve to keep her. This might be easy to do. If you were the one who fed her, bathed her, walked her, and did everything that makes her “your” dog, you can probably win her in the divorce.

Contribution can take a more subtle form. Let’s say your spouse runs a successful business. It belongs to them, and they make far more money than you. However, you helped build it. You supported them through the lean years and unemployment. You helped manage the books in the early days, building the foundation for success. Your spouse’s income paid for the fancy sports car, but that car wouldn’t exist without your support. It is possible to argue that you deserve to keep some of the more extravagant purchases in the marriage.

Working with Your Attorney

Remember, when a divorce goes to court, the decisions are out of your hands. You need the help of a skilled attorney to secure your physical assets. Work closely with them, and let them know what property is important and why. Be ready for genuine feedback. Your lawyer will let you know which assets are worth fighting for and which may be a lost cause. Finally, plan for what you are willing to sacrifice for your assets. Gaining your property will cost you something, but you can rest easy once it is in your hands.

If you need help securing your assets in a divorce, reach out to our firm today. We can offer you a consultation, so call (949) 565-4158 or contact us online.