Though there are 50 U.S. states, there are basically two methods of dividing property in American divorces. Most states follow the equitable distribution model. California, along with a handful of other states, uses the community property system.
Though both methods provide a framework for splitting up your property when going through a divorce, the outcomes can be quite different. Community property rules tend to be more strict than those followed by equitable property states, which divide a couple’s assets and debts in marital (or jointly owned) property and nonmarital property. Equitable property states only require that a division negotiated by the spouses or ordered by the judge overseeing the divorce be “equitable” or fair.
California also sorts a divorcing couple’s property into two piles, though here we refer to community and separate property. But all community property is presumed to be owned by each spouse equally. Most things you acquired during the marriage will be community property.
Dividing up community property
The law requires that you and your ex split community property equally. This is simple enough to figure out when it comes to a bank account or retirement plan. But things like an ownership interest in a business can be more complicated. Often, one spouse will buy out the other spouse’s share once they agree on a valuation of the business.
Separate property is anything that you or your ex owned before your marriage began, along with any rent or profits you earn from that property. It can also include inheritances and gifts explicitly given to one spouse and not the other. Each spouse walks away with all of their separate property. It is common for disagreements to come up over whether a valuable asset counts as community or separate property.
Property division can be done reasonably
Property division is a complicated process, but it does not have to be rancorous or take years to complete. The guidance and representation of a trusted and experienced family law attorney can make a big difference.