Experienced Asset Division Attorney in California
Law Firm Specializing in Community Property Asset Division in the Inland Empire of Southern California
California is a no-fault divorce state, which means a spouse can file for divorce at any time and for no other reason than “irreconcilable differences,” and property division in California divorce cases is never influenced by the behavior of either spouse, although child custody and visitation rights can be.
California is also a community property state, which means the law presumes that all property acquired during the marriage is owned equally by both spouses. Upon legal separation, divorce, or dissolution of domestic partnership a couple’s assets are divided (the practice of asset division) to ensure that each spouse receives one-half of the community estate. When a couple gets married in California, they are creating a “community” together. Subject to a few exceptions, under California’s community property laws (California Family Code 760), assets and debts spouses acquired during the marriage belong equally to both of them, and they must divide them equally in a divorce. There are three crucial steps to property division:
- Characterize the property (and debt) as either marital or separate
- Determine the value of marital (community) property, and
- Decide how to divide the community property (and debt).
Why Asset Division Can Be Complex in California Divorce
Theoretically, it sounds simple to add up the total value of a couple’s community estate and then split the number in half. In actuality, however, there are several legal issues involved in dividing assets and debts that can complicate the process. For example, it is not unusual for a spouse to make payments on a separate property asset (acquired before the marriage) with community property income (earned during the marriage) (See Marriage of Mullonkal & Kodiyamplakkil – Family Code 2641 Requires Reimbursement to the Community for Separate Debt Payments During Marriage). In such an instance, the community may have an interest in the asset, even if the asset is characterized as “separate property.”
Community Property Lawyer in California
Community property is all property (assets and debts), spouses acquired during the marriage (between the date of marriage and the date of separation), excluding property acquired by gift or inheritance. In California, spouses own an equal 50% interest in the community. Community property includes, but is not limited to:
- Real property (land, houses and rental properties) – even if only one spouse holds title
- Furnishings, jewelry, art, antiques, cars
- Income earned during the marriage
- Bank and investment accounts
- Cash value of insurance policies
- Stocks and stock options
- Retirement or pension plans
- Businesses or professional practices
Along with sharing community property, with few exceptions, California couples share equal responsibility for community debts. Community debts are all debts and liabilities incurred during the marriage by either spouse. This includes credit card bills, even if the card is in the name of only one spouse. Student loans are an exception and are considered separate property debts.
California law recognizes that married individuals have a right to own separate property, which is generally not subject to division in a divorce. Such separate property may include:
- Property acquired before marriage or after the date of separation
- Property acquired through inheritance
- Property received by one spouse as a gift to that spouse alone
- Any rents, profits, or interest earned on a separate property asset
Debts incurred before getting married or incurred after separation are also separate property debts. Also, in the event a marriage is determined to be void (annulment proceedings), and the court does not make a finding that there is a putative spouse rendering the property acquired during the void marriage quasi-community property, then the parties must likely proceed with any property disputes in civil court and such rules as the title presumption will likely control (See Evidence Code 662).
In divorce proceedings, problems with identifying and characterizing separate property occur when separate property has been mixed with community property. This can create complex tracing requirements where property has been mixed, and spouses may want to seek the advice of a skilled divorce lawyer to make sure their interests are protected.
The Date of Separation under California Family Law
California law provides that property and debt acquired after separation, but before the court enters the final divorce decree, is the separate property of the acquiring spouse. This makes pinpointing the date of separation a vital part of the divorce process.
California law no longer requires that the spouses physically live apart to effectuate the date of separation. The date of separation now takes effect on the date one party communicates his or her intent to end the marriage, and then takes some action or series of actions in furtherance of that intent. This means that there must be some sort of demonstrable evidence that at least one spouse outwardly manifested their intent to follow through with the breakup, perhaps by no longer sleeping in the same bed or attending social events without the other spouse.
Methods of Asset Division
Before assets and debts can be divided in a divorce, each and every item must be characterized as either community or separate property.
There are several options for dividing assets and debts: an asset or debt can be assigned to one spouse in exchange for assets or debts of equal value, one spouse can “buy out” the other spouse’s share in an asset, or the couple can sell assets and split the profits (See The Ultimate Guide to Selling Real Property in California Divorce). A typical divorce involves a combination of these and other methods and is often tailored to the unique facts and circumstances involved.
Our attorneys have the skill and knowledge to directly negotiate with your spouse or his/her attorney to protect your rights to marital assets; or, if a marital settlement agreement cannot be reached, we will persuasively argue your position in court.
How a Skilled Divorce Attorney Can Help with Property Division
The choice to seek marital dissolution can be a difficult decision, especially when children are involved. Our firm is dedicated to making the process as painless and straightforward as possible. We represent clients in both contested and uncontested divorces. We evaluate your situation and advise you of all your options under the law, so we can custom tailor an experience you can look back on without regret. Our goal is to help make the decisions that protect your legal rights, and that are in the best interests of your family. We strive to get to know you as a person, as an individual, change is inevitable, but the stress and anxiety you feel about those changes do not have to be.
Contact Our Experienced California Property Division Attorneys Now
No matter what stage of the process you are in, you can rely on the experience of our divorce attorneys in reaching resolutions in your case. Our Southern California family law firm fights hard to make the legal system work for our clients. Our attorneys have litigated property division cases throughout the State of California, including Riverside, Los Angeles, Orange and San Bernardino counties. Call the experienced family law attorneys at Talkov Law at (951) 888-3300 or contact us online for a free consultation about your case. Learn how our experienced divorce attorney, Colleen Sparks, can guide you through the court process in a prompt and clear manner.