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How does property get divided in a divorce in California?

The most challenging part of a divorce can be dividing up the family property. All couples, but especially those with larger estates, may find themselves in a tug-of-war as they try to battle each other for both tangible and intangible assets. Couples should be aware that in California, property acquired during the marriage is often split equally between the spouses.

California is referred to as a "community property" state, where all tangible assets, such as houses, cars and artwork, and intangible assets, such as stocks and bonds, obtained during the marriage will be divided evenly between you and your ex-spouse. This is very different from property division in other states, where couples' assets are divided "equitably," or according to what the judge thinks is fair.

Much of the conflict during the divorce can come from whether a specific piece of property is marital property or separate property. Marital property, or "community property," is property that was obtained during the marriage, whereas separate property refers to property brought into the marriage by one of the spouses. For example, employment earnings during the marriage, the marital home and furniture purchased during the marriage with marital earnings would all be considered community property. However, inheritances, personal gifts or other property owned prior to the marriage is considered separate property and will not be shared with your spouse upon divorce. In some cases, there may be a piece of property that used to be separate, but later became marital due to co-mingling.

Property is not always divided 50/50 in community property states. Courts will consider marital fault, disparity between the earning capacity of each spouse, health conditions and a number of other factors when determining how to divide the property.

Source: FindLaw, "Community Property Overview," accessed Nov. 6, 2017

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