Understanding Property Division in California

When you’re married, you and your spouse will slowly acquire a list of shared assets. You may buy a home together, get a new car, shop for household décor and furniture, or make long-term investments. Whatever you do, these assets tend to pile up over time, which makes it even more difficult to deal with the division or your property if the two of you should divorce.

The possessions and properties you’ve collected over the years probably hold significant value to you, both financially and emotionally. Finding a way to split these possessions after a separation or divorce can be extremely difficult, especially if you and your spouse are unable to agree about who gets what. To make sure you know what to do when it comes time to divide your assets, discover how California law addresses property division.

The Property Division Process

In California, couples have the option to either create their own property division agreement or to have the court intercede. If a couple can reach their own terms, sometimes with the help of mediation, the court will simply sign off on the terms, if they are fair, and the couple can avoid litigation. However, if the couple is unable to reach an agreement on their own, they will have to go to court to have their case decided by a California judge. If this is the case, there are several different factors the court will consider before dividing property.

Community Property vs. Separate Property

First of all, California is a community property state, which means all property accumulated while the couple is married is considered the property of both spouses. However, some properties and assets may be deemed “separate property.” Separate property refers to assets owned by one spouse alone, but this ownership must be backed by an appropriate agreement or document.

For example, if the couple bought a house together while married, that house is considered community property and is therefore subject to division. However, if one spouse purchased a house before the marriage and they have a prenuptial agreement that says that house is the property of that spouse alone, the property will likely be considered separate property.

If a couple has to have their property divided in court, the judge will make his or her decisions based on what is fair. All properties, funds, possessions, and debts will be split equitably, which does not always mean it will be perfectly equal, but the court aims to make the division reasonable.

Property Division Through Mediation

Dividing property through mediation can be extremely beneficial, if for no other reason than because it allows the couple to retain control. An unbiased third-party mediator can help the couple negotiate terms, dividing big and small assets, finances, and even debts. This process can be one of the most challenging parts of a divorce, but it can be done in mediation if both parties are willing to make it work. If you do divorce through mediation, the key thing to keep in mind is that everything is give-and-take, which means you can’t get everything for nothing. If you are particularly attached to the marital home, you might have to give up something else important, like a vehicle or a valuable vacation home. However, choosing to work with a mediator means that you and your spouse can continue working out a plan until you reach terms you can both be satisfied with.

Are you at the beginning stages of the divorce process? Property division is just around the corner, and it’s important that you know your options so that you can make informed decisions about your divorce.

Contact Alternative Divorce Solutions to request a free consultation with our Orange County mediation attorneys.