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When a divorcing couple must divide their assets, the first step is identifying what assets are community property. In California, it is typically property that spouses acquire during the marriage. It is the only property that a court will divide.

For the most part, people will keep their separate property. Whether spouses own something separately may be a key issue in divorce proceedings.

What do spouses own separately?

Assets that people have when entering into a marriage usually cannot become community property. As soon as a couple separates, anything that each person acquires is theirs alone. For the most part, gifts and inheritances are also separate property.

Do spouses share responsibility for debts?

The rules about what spouses own together also apply to their debts. In addition to dividing their assets, they must also divide liabilities that they incur over the duration of a marriage. Even if a credit card is in just one person’s name, his or her spouse may incur half of the debt.

How do courts divide debts and assets?

Unlike the majority of states which apply equitable distribution to divide property, California is in a minority of states that make an even split in most situations. Courts may make 50-50 awards regardless of the length of a marriage or people’s other assets.

Dividing property is one of the first and most important matters that people need to resolve in the divorce process. It typically precedes determinations about spousal support. In general, it is a good idea for spouses to attempt to reach a mutual agreement regarding both property division and spousal support.