Financial matters are among the most stressful parts of a divorce. There are concerns about how much money you stand to gain or lose, depending on your position. Property is a big part of your overall assets, and a divorce can make it a looming worry. How much will you keep? How much must you sacrifice?
When dividing assets in a divorce, California uses an equal property division model. In this article, we will explain which assets are eligible for division and provide some clarity on how the system works.
Before diving into how courts divide property, it’s important to discuss marital assets. When two people marry, they officially become family. The law assumes that anything gained or earned is for the benefit of that family. Therefore, all property that is purchased during the marriage is considered a marital asset.
Nothing is off-limits. If you treat yourself to a rare collectible, your spouse is a co-owner. When they buy you an expensive present, they own half of it. Regardless of who paid for the item or who uses it, you both own 50% of that property.
The only exception is property outside the marriage. If you inherit property from a deceased loved one, that property is yours alone. Any gifts given by someone outside the marriage belong only to you, and anything you owned before the marriage is yours alone.
Dividing Marital Assets Equally
Marital assets are considered “community property,” so many refer to equal division as “community property division.” There are caveats and complex exceptions, but essentially, this model attempts to divide assets equally. When the divorce is finalized, each party should have 50% of the community property’s overall value. Only nine states use this system. All other states attempt to divide property equitably, based solely on what the court believes is fair.
Dividing property equally is not easy. Courts must consider physical property within this system. You can’t split a house down the middle and give each half to someone. Therefore, trades must happen. For one person to keep the $250,000-dollar home, they must find a way to give the other a value of $125,000.
One way to achieve this trade is through direct payment. The person who keeps the home owes the other half its value.
A more complicated solution is trading physical property. To keep the home, for example, you must give up the expensive jewelry, the sports car, and more.
Finally, you can sell off the property and split the profits between yourselves. Any combination of these three trades is acceptable. You could pay the other party, trade with them, and sell something else all at once.
Keeping Your Property
Even within a community property model, you can fight for what you believe is yours. If, for example, you deserve the home, you can make an argument for entitlement. Perhaps you were the stay-at-home parent, managing all repairs and remodels in the house.
Just remember, keeping any piece of property requires giving up something else. You may need to pay your spouse half the property’s value or trade them something else you treasure.
Spousal and Child Support
Generally, support orders are a completely different process from property division. After property is divided, the court starts work on spousal support decisions. Child support is determined in the best interests of the children, so property division doesn’t have much effect on it.
Avoiding Community Property Division
In any family law matter, you are not at the mercy of the courts. You and your spouse can always draft your own agreements and submit them to the courts to be finalized. If an equitable division works better for you, then do it. Perhaps you can create a hybrid of equitable and community property division. If so, we encourage it. For extra help, consider hiring a mediator. This legal professional can help guide negotiations and make sure you cover all necessary agreements.
For help with protecting and dividing property in a divorce, reach out to our firm. Our number is (916) 299-3936, and you can contact us online.