When it comes to asset division during divorce, California follows the community property principle which states that any property or debts acquired by one or both partners over the course of a marriage are automatically considered jointly and equally owned by the couple as a single entity. This has important implications in divorce as both spouses share equal claim to any assets or property acquired as a married couple, yes, but both spouses also share equal responsibility for any debts amassed during that time.
What counts as community property in CA and how is it divided?
The California courts describe explicitly what items are considered property and how to differentiate among types of property. Quite simply, any item that can be bought or sold is considered property, as is anything else that holds value. Tangible items, such as residences, vehicles, boats, furniture, and art. Intangible items like bank accounts, pension, and retirement plans, stocks, patents, life insurance policies, and the goodwill in businesses. Debts hold a negative value depending on what is owed, and thus are also considered a community liability.
Depending on when and how an item was acquired, it may be classified as community property, separate property, or a combination of the two:
- Property acquired entirely by one or both spouses during the length of the marriage is community property
- Property acquired jointly by both partners before they were married is community property
- Property acquired by one spouse or the other in entirety before the marriage is separate property, as is rent or profits from separate property
- Inheritance or gifts to one spouse individually is separate property
- Property acquired after separation is separate property
- Property initially established or partially acquired by one spouse before marriage, but added to or fully paid off during the marriage, is known as commingled—this means that it is both separate property and community property. Some examples include homes or vehicles for which mortgages/loans were taken out by one spouse before the marriage, but paid off with joint funds or at some point in the marriage, or retirement or pension plans set up before the partnership, and continuing to be paid into throughout the duration of the marriage.
Dividing community property and particularly commingled items can be complicated. Assigning values to the property based on their monetary worth and determining the value of commingled items before they became commingled is essential to the process.
Using mediation to divide community property
In California, couples can opt to use mediation to facilitate property division during divorce. In mediation, a neutral party (usually a lawyer or other professional) helps the divorcing spouses take inventory of all their community property, as well as the community portions of commingled items. Each partner has the opportunity to claim meaningful items. The items that both parties want are then divided equitably based on their value and with reasonable compromise as the objective.
Sure, certain disputes may get heated, but generally, mediation not only saves time and money—it also promotes a more cooperative and congenial overall environment. The unbiased mediator present helps direct focus on the negotiations on the agenda for that session while avoiding getting too personal or contentious.
Consult an experienced Fresno divorce attorney with questions about community property division
Whether you are entering mediation or simply reviewing your divorce options, you need an advocate who can protect your interests at every step in the process, including property division. To learn more about how the Law Office of Rebecca Medina supports you, call (559) 785-3295 or contact us online today.