Property division during a divorce can be a particularly acrimonious part of the marital dissolution process. Sometimes, a final resolution can hinge on who gets one sentimental piece of property that both spouses dearly want.
In California, property division during divorce is handled using community property principles. That is, property acquired during a marriage will be presumed to be the property of both spouses. If your husband bought the boat you hated five years ago, the boat is technically owned by both of you. If your wife splurged on designer jewelry, you own a part of that costly bauble.
California courts equally divide community property 50-50 as required by state law. The same cannot be said for the debts owed by the spouses, or community debt. California courts can divide community debts equitably according to principles of fairness.
But what about the condo you bought before you even met your spouse? Or the sports car you got after you separated? Or the bequest you received after your aunt passed away? In most cases these items - property acquired by one spouse before the marriage, after the date of legal separation, or received as a gift during the marriage - are referred to as separate property and are not split equally.
A California family law judge will award separate property to the party that acquired it before, during or after the marriage. If the property was commingled with other community assets, however, it may no longer be considered separate property. Did your wife's parents give her money that you both decided to use to remodel the bathroom? That money may no longer be considered her separate property because it has been transmuted into community property. And what about the rental condo your husband sold to raise the money for a down payment on your vacation home? That may be considered community property now, too. On the other hand, the courts may trace the assets and provide either spouse a separate property reimbursement.
Property division is a complex area of divorce. If you have questions about how your assets may be divided in a divorce in California, it is never too soon to contact an experienced California family law attorney for guidance.