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Mine, yours and ours: dividing property in California

If you and your spouse have been living what would be considered an affluent lifestyle, you may be wondering what happens to all you've accumulated during your marriage in a divorce. What's mine? What's ours? These are two of the most commonly asked questions when the assets are divided during a divorce in California.

How will the assets be split?

Regardless of the reason for the divorce, no one should walk away with a demonstrably favorable settlement. If two people cannot agree on how to split the assets of their marriage, (or even if they did) the court will have to issue a formal order. Until that comes to pass, all property acquired during the marriage remains communal, regardless of who has possession.

Property definitions in California

There are three recognized categories into which property can be divided in this state:

  • Community property
  • Quasi-community property
  • Separate property

As a community property state, everything purchased or earned during the course of a marriage by both parties belongs to each partner equally. For example, if one spouse uses his or her earnings exclusively to purchase a new boat, that boat is shared property, even if only one name appears on the ownership.

The same rule applies to debt. Any debt accumulated by either or both spouses is shared and must be divided in a divorce. This holds true in the case of a credit card that is only in one spouse's name.

Possible examples of community property include:

  • Vacation homes
  • Vehicles
  • Jewelry
  • Pensions

Quasi-community property applies in situations in which a couple once lived in another state and acquired assets there before moving to California. Those assets, if acquired during the marriage, will be treated as community property regardless of their legal status in the state where they were acquired.

Separate property includes anything you owned prior to getting married, as well as inheritances and gifts received during the marriage that were given to one person. Anything purchased with money from an inheritance or gift is also separate property and will remain the possession of the purchaser after a divorce. Additionally, any income generated by separate property will be treated as separate property during the division of assets.

Keeping it all straight and dividing it fairly

Asset division can become a complicated business, especially in a high net worth divorce. The net worth of a well-off marriage is sometimes not immediately evident and can require a lot of work to determine accurately.

In order to help ensure the division of property is done fairly, it may be best to work with a seasoned professional who understands the details of California divorce law. A skilled lawyer will work with you to make sure you come away from your marriage with everything that is rightfully yours.

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