Who gets to keep what? A primer on property division

You and your spouse have decided that it is time for you both to go your separate ways. On the one hand, you are eager to experience the freedom that comes with getting divorced. On the other hand, you are wondering how the family law court will handle the process of splitting your shared assets.

States handle the division of married couples' assets differently, with California being one of only a few states that go by the community property principle. Here is a glimpse at what this principle involves and how it will impact the distribution of your assets during your divorce proceeding.

California courts divide property down the middle

In California, the family law court splits a divorcing couple's property 50/50. This is opposite of what happens in equitable distribution states, where a judge divides property in the manner that he or she deems fair, or equitable. So, what exactly needs split equally during a divorce proceeding in California?

For starters, you and your spouse will have to figure out how to equally divide community assets, such as cars, your marital home, clothing and furniture. Community property also includes the following items:

  • Patents
  • Businesses
  • Stocks
  • Pension plans
  • Cash
  • Bank account funds
  • Life insurance
  • Defined contribution retirement plans
  • Apartment security deposits

In general, any property that you and your spouse accumulated during the course of your marriage is community property and thus is subject to division. However, if you can prove that a certain asset is actually separate property -- such as an inheritance or a gift -- then this asset will not have to be split during your marital breakup.

Addressing debt along with assets outside of California

Although jointly owned property is divided 50/50 in California during divorce, the same is not necessarily true for debts. Instead, the court will divide your and your spouse's debt equitably, or in the fairest manner possible.

Also, perhaps you and your spouse live in California, but you own an asset in another state that follows the equitable distribution principle and not the community property standard. In this situation, the court will still deem this asset community property during your divorce.

An attorney can walk you through the property division process and help you to pursue a balanced and comprehensive outcome in light of the circumstances surrounding your divorce.

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