Family law in California is unique to the state, meaning that precedents or rules that apply elsewhere are not necessarily relevant during divorce. Some rules or procedures might be similar to those in other states, but one area in particular stands out. Unlike most states, California follows the community property concept for property division.
Community property is a fairly simple concept to understand. Any income or property that is acquired by either spouse during their marriage is considered joint property. Joint property — also known as community property — is divided equally during divorce. There are a few exceptions, such as inheritances and gifts, but in certain situations these may be considered joint property as well.
It is important to understand that property is much more than physical items or money. Property is defined as anything that a person can buy or sell, or anything of value. Vehicles, real estate, furniture and even clothing are all considered property. So are pensions, retirement savings, stocks, businesses, patents and life insurance policies with cash value. These are the types of assets that will be split 50/50 during a divorce.
Debt is handled differently than property and is not necessarily subject to equal division. Instead, debt is split according to equitable division. Equitable division will leave each person with a portion of the debt that is most fair, which is not necessarily equal.
Preserving wealth during divorce is often a top priority. In order to do so, an individual must have a thorough understanding of both California’s family law but also of his or her rights during property division. Having experienced counsel who can help advocate for those rights may also prove helpful during an otherwise difficult process.