Property Division Lawyers in Sacramento
Trusted Attorneys for Your Family Law Matters
Between parties seeking dissolution of their marriage, the Family Law Court has authority to determine the marital estate and is required by statute to equally divide that estate, including all assets and debts acquired during the marriage. Key to the Court’s determination is the distinction between community property and separate property.
Community property law, a vestige of Spanish Civil Law, establishes a general presumption that all property of any kind, no matter how titled, and all debt of whatever nature, if acquired after the date of marriage and before the date of separation, belongs to the marital community, to be shared equally between the spouses. Community property law does not recognize any distinction that favors either spouse on the basis of who was responsible for creating the earnings that led to the purchase of an asset; nor does it assign debt to a spouse based on who entered the debt agreement. Community property law recognizes each spouse as one part of an undivided whole unit, their respective interests being “present, existing and equal.”
Our Sacramento property division lawyers at The Law Office of David A. Martin & Associates have extensive experience in managing challenging divorce and property division issues. Let us put that experience to work for you.
Determining Community Property & Separate Property
Like all rules, there are exceptions to the general presumption. If property is acquired by gift or inheritance, or if its acquisition is traceable to a source originally owned by one spouse prior to the marriage, that property is generally considered the separate property of that spouse.
The distinction between community property and separate property is often clear—but not always. In practice, couples may have mixed-character assets that require a detailed and documented financial tracing to unravel. Common examples include co-mingling bank accounts, use of community money to pay down separate property debt or the opposite, use of separate property to increase the equity of a community property asset. Then there are circumstances where the character of an asset, such as a retirement benefit or a grant of stock, must be determined in accordance to its acquisition over time. In such instances, the Court will apply the “Time Rule” to determine proportional ownership.
What Estates Are Community Property?
Early in a divorce, there should be an attempt to comprehend the extent of the community property estate. At the point of final judgment, either the Court or the parties must identify, characterize, value, and divide the entire community estate. There are potential arguments at each stage of this analysis, and the efficacy of those arguments can substantially affect the decision of the court or settlement of the parties.
The Family Law Court does not have authority to decide property disputes between unmarried persons. In cases involving unwed parents, the court cannot make orders that require either party to share or take responsibility for assets or debts whether acquired jointly or separately by the parties. In such cases, the Court can only make orders regarding child custody, child support, and attorney fees.
Property generally falls into two categories: real and personal. Real property refers to land and improvements permanently affixed to that land. Personal property generally is everything else. Disputes can sometimes arise whether a thing is, in fact, “property.” In such instances, the Court will generally apply a test.
The right and interest that a man has in lands and chattels to the exclusion of others. (6 Binn. 98; 4 Pet. 511; 17 Johns. 283; 14 East, 370; 11 East, 290, 518.) It is the right to enjoy and to dispose of certain things in the most absolute manner as he pleases, provided he makes no use of them prohibited by law. Property consists of those things and rights that can be owned or that have a money value. Property also signifies a beneficial right to a thing.
Dividing Property Equitably
Types of property that may need to be divided include:
- Bank accounts
- Retirement funds
- Other financial assets (IRAs, stocks, bonds, etc.)
- Workers’ compensation awards
- Personal injury awards
- Medical malpractice awards
- Family heirlooms and valuables
- Household items and furniture
Our Sacramento property division lawyers have the knowledge and experience needed. No matter the details of your situation, we can counsel you on your rights and seek a practical resolution through negotiation or litigation if needed.