Many people who go through a divorce get an unpleasant surprise when they find out that, just because their name is on the house deed doesn't mean they get to keep the house. Similarly, the car may be registered to their name alone, but that doesn't necessarily mean they get to keep it clear from the property division process.
Under California law, all property acquired during the marriage is considered community property, belonging to both spouses. People going through a divorce must list all their assets, divide any premarital property from community property and then negotiate a way to divide the community property in accordance with California law.
Many people do not realize that a similar dynamic is at work with bank accounts. According to a recent survey by Bank of America, 28% of young married couples are choosing to avoid opening joint bank accounts, preferring to keep separate accounts. At least some of these couples do so thinking that it will make property division easier should they later decide to dissolve the marriage. That is not the case.
What these newlyweds really need is a prenuptial agreement. A prenuptial agreement can protect property and streamline the property division process in the event of a divorce down the road. Although some people balk at the idea of planning for their divorce before they are even married, others say they appreciate how a prenuptial agreement gives them the feeling of going into their marriage with clear expectations.
Prenuptial agreements must follow strict formal requirements in order to be considered valid. People considering a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement should talk to a lawyer with experience in family law.