Along with resolving issues of child custody, one of the most complicated aspects of divorce for many couples is deciding how to divide their shared property, such as the family home, bank accounts, investments and retirement plans. In the midst of the emotional and financial turmoil that divorce can bring, divorcing spouses may find it helpful to have a basic understanding of how the California courts deal with the difficult issue of property division.
California Property Division Law
California divorce law follows a "community property" system, which means that both spouses are generally considered equal owners of all property and assets acquired during the marriage, regardless of which spouse earned, purchased or otherwise generated the assets. Debts acquired by either spouse during the marriage are also the responsibility of both parties. Property and debts acquired separately by either spouse prior to the marriage are generally treated as separate property and will typically be retained by the spouse who originally owned the property.
Although community property and debt is jointly owned by both spouses, this does not mean that it will necessarily be divided equally during divorce. Instead, California courts apply the principle of "equitable division," which simply means that judges attempt to divide marital debts and assets in a way that is equitable, or fair. Judges consider a wide variety of factors during the process of equitable division, including:
- The length of the marriage
- Who earned the property or accrued the debt
- Any non-financial contributions made by either spouse, such as homemaking and raising children
- The relative earning power of the spouses
Since fairness is a relatively subjective standard, the ultimate outcome of the property division process in California can be difficult to predict. To avoid this uncertainty, many couples choose to negotiate their own property division agreements outside of court.
Seek Legal Help
Regardless of whether the property division process occurs in or out of the courtroom, it is wise for anyone going through a divorce to seek help from an attorney to help ensure that their rights and interests are protected. For more information about property division during divorce in California, contact a knowledgeable divorce lawyer.