What is Community Property in a California Divorce?

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When it comes to marriage, and divorce, California is a community property state. This means that marital property is divided equally at the dissolution of the marriage, absent a prenuptial agreement to the contrary. All assets (stock, real estate, crystal, etc…) acquired during the marriage are presumed to be community property.

Legally speaking, community property is different from separate property. Separate property includes: 1) property owned by either spouse before the marriage, 2) property acquired during the marriage by one spouse by gift, devise, or bequest, 3) property acquired during marriage with the expenditure of separate funds, and 4) the rents, issues, and profits derived from separate property.

These statutory definitions and presumptions apply unless the character of an asset has been altered by the parties’ agreement (premarital or during marriage), the parties’ conduct, or how title was taken. Furthermore, the characterization of each asset as separate property or community property can depend on when and where it was acquired, the source of funds used to acquire or improve the asset, actions taken by either or both parties that affect its character, and any applicable special presumptions. Discuss these in further detail with an experienced Los Angeles divorce lawyer.

What is Community Property?

Community property is the property, other than separate property, that is acquired by either spouse during marriage. This includes all property acquired in California or another community property state. The most common examples are salary/wages earned by spouses and income from community property assets. Trickier examples include prize money won by the husband on a game show (because it is acquired from the husband’s labor) or a bonus given by the wife’s employer in a gift box (because it is intended as additional compensation as opposed to a gift).

Quasi-Community Property

Quasi-community property is property acquired during marriage while the couple was living in a non-community property state, which would have been classified as community property had it been acquired under the same circumstances in California. If you and your soon-to-be-ex divided your time between California and a non-community property state, such as New York, your family lawyer will work with you to determine the nature of the assets acquired during the marriage.

Ending of Marital Economic Community

In community property states, like California, most property acquired during a marriage is called the “marital economic community”. For the purposes of the marital economic community, the marriage ends at divorce, death, or when you or your spouse moves out with the intent not to get back together. Therefore, if you and your spouse are planning on filing for a divorce in California, but are still living with each other, the marital economic community will still exist. This can come as a surprise to many people who might think that assets and debts are somehow frozen upon filling for divorce. They are not.

Domestic Partnership and Community Property

In California, the community property system applies to registered domestic partners upon the filing of a Declaration of Domestic Partnership with the Secretary of State.  It is available only to (i) same-sex couples, and (ii) opposite-sex couples, at least one of whom is over 62 and qualifies for Social Security.

Should I Speak to a Divorce Attorney?

Generally speaking, while each and every community asset and liability must be divided in half, certain assets raise characterization problems and there are many exceptions to the equal division requirement. You should retain a divorce attorney who is experienced in these matters and can guide you through the process.

For more information on how to file for divorce, or to discuss the division of the community property acquired during your marriage, contact the knowledgeable Los Angeles family law attorneys at Walzer & Melcher today.

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