Division of property and debts can be one of the most challenging aspects of a California divorce. California is a "community property" state. In essence, that means that a husband and wife are treated as a legal "community." Everything acquired by either of them during the marriage (with very limited exceptions) and any debt incurred by either of them during the marriage is deemed to belong to the community. Each spouse owns one half of the property and is responsible for one half of the debt.
In short-term marriages in which there is little marital property or debt, property division in a divorce may be relatively straightforward. Most of the time, however, it can be difficult and time consuming to divide property. You may, if you and your spouse are able, agree on a division of marital property and debt. If you cannot reach agreement, the court will divide assets and debts for you. If you can agree on the division of some assets, but not others, the court will divide the property you were unable to agree on.
California courts divide only community property in a divorce. Some property may be considered "separate," such as gifts to one party, an inheritance received by one party, or property owned by one party before the marriage or acquired after the date of separation. (Because of this, identifying the correct date of separation can make a significant difference as to what property should be considered "community" or "separate.")
What you do with your separate property could cause it to become community property. For instance, if you inherit $50,000 and use it to buy a car for yourself, that car will remain your separate property. If you put the $50,000 in the joint bank account with your spouse, it becomes "commingled," and becomes community property.
Property can also be partly separate and partly community. For instance, if your spouse bought a house before you met, then you moved into it together after the marriage and paid the mortgage with community assets (like either of your paychecks), the house is partly separate and partly community property. Likewise, if you started a job with a retirement plan before marriage, then kept that job and plan and continued to contribute to it after marriage, if would be partly a separate and partly a community asset.
There is also something called "quasi-community property." Quasi-community property is property that you and your spouse acquired together after your marriage while living in a state other than California; had you been living in California at the time, the asset would have been considered community property. In a California divorce, quasi-community property, wherever located, is divided just like community property.
As you can see, property division in a California divorce is a complex matter, and it is not always obvious what property is subject to division. Add to this the fact that some property may be difficult to value, and it becomes clear that the assistance of an experienced California family law attorney is essential when attempting to reach settlement on property division.
At Comstock & Wagner, divorce and family law, including property division, are all we do. Our attorneys are California board-certified family law specialists who have demonstrated a great depth and breadth of experience in the practice of family law and have met other stringent certification requirements.
Our attorneys will help you ensure that you and your spouse are considering all property that is subject to division, that you have identified the correct date of separation, and that property to be divided has been assigned an accurate value. We are experienced in handling California divorce cases involving significant, unusual, or complex assets, as well as those involving allegations of concealed assets.
We will assist you in negotiating a property division that is fair and will meet your needs during and after your divorce. If a settlement cannot be reached, we have the courtroom experience to be able to effectively advocate for you at trial.
Comstock & Wagner is conveniently located in a private building with off-street parking near the courthouse in Santa Maria. The represents clients throughout the central coast of California, including Santa Maria, Santa Barbara, and San Luis Obispo.
If you have questions about property division in a California divorce, we invite you to contact Comstock & Wagner to schedule a consultation. We look forward to working with you.