Steven E. Springer
Community and Separate Property
Property division in a California divorce is dependent on whether the property is characterized as community or separate property. Community property is property owned jointly by both spouses or domestic partners, while separate property is owned by only one spouse or domestic partner. In a divorce or legal separation, community property will be subject to division, but separate property will not.
In California, everything that the spouses own together, both assets and debt, will be characterized as community property. This includes all property acquired during the marriage, with the exception of gifts and inheritances. It includes all earnings and salaries from both spouses, and also everything acquired with community property. Community property includes all debts and liabilities acquired during the marriage, even if they were acquired in only one spouse’s name.
Community property may include, for example, all salaries earned during the marriage, a house purchased with money earned during the marriage, or a retirement plan with contributions made during the marriage. In a divorce, each spouse owns one half of the community property, both assets and debts.
Quasi-community property is property acquired by either or both spouses while living in a different state that, had it been acquired in California, would have been deemed community property. For example, if a married couple lived in Florida, an equitable distribution state, then moved to California and divorced, then any earnings, any real estate purchased, or any other assets or debts acquired during the marriage, but while the couple lived outside California, will be quasi-community property. Quasi-community property is treated as community property in a divorce.
Anything owned by either spouse before the marriage, or anything acquired or earned after the date of separation, is separate property in California. Inheritances or gifts made to one spouse during the marriage are also separate property. Rents, profits, and other income resulting from separate property also constitute separate property. Additionally, any property purchased with separate property will be characterized as separate property.
For example, this may include dividends earned from stock acquired prior to the marriage, money inherited by one spouse during the marriage, or a car purchased with income earned before the marriage. In a divorce, separate property belongs to the spouse that owned or earned it, as long as it was kept separate from the couple’s community property.
Sometimes, separate and community property are commingled. For example, this may occur if one spouse deposited money she owned before the marriage into a shared bank account, or if one spouse owned a house before the marriage; however, after the marriage, both spouses contributed to mortgage payments. The rights to commingled property depend on several factors, including how the title to the property is held and whether the spouses have made any binding agreements regarding how the property will be characterized.
If you are considering a divorce, one of the most important and complex issues is property division. An experienced San Jose family law attorney can help you understand what will happen to your property. Please contact The Law Offices of Steven E. Springer at 408-779-4700 to schedule a free initial consultation, in Morgan Hill, San Jose or Fremont.