California is a community property state. This means any property gained or earned during the marriage is subject to equal division during a divorce.
Before the division part of the process begins, the court must legally determine what property is marital and what is separate.
What is marital property?
Marital, or community, property can include real estate, vehicles, bank accounts, retirement plans, jewelry and other valuables. Any debt collected during the marriage by either spouse also belongs equally to both spouses. For example, if one spouse opens a credit card and uses it to fund the couple’s lifestyle, both spouses are liable for repayment after a divorce.
What is separate property?
Separate property refers to anything belonging solely to one spouse prior to the marriage, also including debt. Anything you purchased with separate property or earned from separate property also belongs solely to you.
Any property you carried with you into the marriage and kept separate during the marriage will likely remain separate during the divorce. Additionally, if you received an inheritance or gift during your marriage, you may still claim it as separate property.
Can complications occur?
Sometimes the lines between marital and separate property can blur. For instance, if you had a retirement account before marriage but your spouse contributed to it during the marriage, the court will need to determine when the contributions began and divide it fairly.
When couples can agree on the division of assets, it significantly speeds up the process. However, the court will still oversee your agreement to assure it is compliant with the law.