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Understanding property division in California

When you decided to file a divorce petition in a California court, you no doubt understood that it would activate a series of events that would include a decision-making process between you and your spouse. Especially if you’re a parent, property division and other financial issues are typically a top priority because you must be able to provide for your children as you move on in life together.

California property division is handled a bit differently than in most other states. This state, along with eight others, operates under community property guidelines. The more you learn about such matters ahead of time, the better equipped you’ll be to make sure you get a fair settlement.

The meaning of community property guidelines

In most states, equitable property division rules apply in divorce. This means that a family court judge will determine a fair division of marital property, although the split will not necessarily be 50/50. As a California resident, you’ll be subject to community property rules, which means the court will divide all marital assets and liabilities equally between you and your ex.

What constitutes marital property?

Any and all assets that you or your spouse acquired during marriage are jointly owned by both of you. Such assets are considered marital property, and when you file for divorce, you and your ex are each entitled to an equal share of those assets. There may be exceptions to the rule, such as if someone gave you a gift or an inheritance that was meant for you but not your spouse.

Any income or wages you or your spouse earned during the course of your marriage are jointly owned by both of you, and it doesn’t matter if you keep money in separate bank accounts. In a community property state, you both own an equal portion of all income, earnings and wages.

Debt is part of your marital property as well

The judge overseeing your divorce will not only determine how to divide the marital assets, he or she will also assign equal portions of any debt acquired during your marriage. For instance, if your spouse has not paid the balance on a credit card, you may be liable for half of the amount.

If your spouse already owed a debt before you got married, the court may consider it a separate liability that will not be subject to property division proceedings in divorce. Also, if you signed a prenuptial agreement, it may have a significant impact on marital property and debt issues in your divorce as well.

Full disclosure is required in property division proceedings

It’s illegal to try to hide assets in a California divorce, although many spouses have attempted it. If you suspect your ex of stashing cash, overpaying on a tax return or credit card, or otherwise trying to beat the system in property division proceedings, you can bring the matter to the court’s immediate attention.

Building a strong support network from the start can help you avoid legal problems when it comes time for property division proceedings in your divorce.

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Joseph R. Zoucha, Attorney & Counselor at Law
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Redwood City, CA 94063

Phone: 650-381-9591
Fax: 650-261-9650
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