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How is property division handled in a California divorce?

When a couple decides to divorce, they may have accumulated years, or even decades, worth of tangible property, such as furniture and automobiles, and intangible property, such as stocks and bank accounts. During the divorce process, a couple's community property will generally be split, although there are some exceptions. However, separate property is not divided in a divorce. Therefore, it is important to understand the difference between community property and separate property.

In California, all assets and debts that spouses acquire using their labor or skill while married is, at least partially, community property. Not all community property is tangible. In some cases, pensions, retirement benefits or stock options are considered to be community property. Each party has ownership rights of half of their community property. This is the case, even if one spouse was the main income-earner, while the other stayed at home or if the property or debt at issue is under one party's name only.

Community property and debts in California will be split evenly, unless the parties agree otherwise or the total amount of their liabilities is greater than their assets. But, this does not mean each piece of property is split exactly in two. Instead, the court might award each party property of equal value. For example, one party might be awarded an automobile, and the other party might be awarded furniture, if the values of these items are equal.

Separate property or debts, on the other hand, includes that which a party acquired prior to the marriage or after the date of separation. Inheritances and gifts to one party only may also be considered separate property. Separate property is not subject to property division in a divorce. Complications can arise when separate property becomes commingled with community property.

As you can see, determining what separate property is and what community property might seem, at first, to be relatively simple. But, in fact, when it comes to commingling and an even division of property, it can really be quite complex. Therefore, it is important for people seeking a divorce to have a solid understanding of property division before proceeding.

Source:, "What Should I Know About Divorce And Custody?," accessed on Sept. 12, 2016

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