Property division is regularly one of the most hotly contested aspects of any divorce. When assets that have significant emotional and monetary value are on the line, it's not uncommon for property division disputes to be the least amicable part of a divorce (especially when children aren't involved).
Understanding how property division works in California can help you navigate the process more easily and push for an ideal outcome in your case—and today, we're giving you all the information you need to do just that.
At Gille Kay Law Group, PC, our experienced lawyers can help you pursue an equitable resolution in your property division case.
Contact us onlineor via phone at (626) 340-0955 to schedule a consultation with our team.
How Does Property Division Work in CA?
- Separate property. Separate property includes assets and liabilities a party owned before their marriage, gifts given to them by another party while married, or anything else explicitly owned by one party and one party only.
- Marital property. Marital property includes assets and liabilities spouses acquire while married. Unless otherwise specified in a pre or postnuptial agreement, most assets and liabilities spouses gain throughout a marriage count as marital property.
During property division, only marital property can be split between the parties—separate property is exempt.
It's important to note that separate property can transmute into marital property over time if both parties utilize an asset or contribute to the asset's value meaningfully.
Generally, this means objects that one party may own before the marriage but that both parties use extensively or contribute to throughout the marriage (like a home) are considered marital property. Vehicles also commonly fall into this category, as does income from businesses owned by one party (or even the business entity itself, if the other spouse becomes involved in its operations).
Even though separate property is exempt from property division, individuals must still provide the court with a complete inventory of the separate and marital property they possess. Separate property can factor into other legal processes, such as calculating alimony or child support, that often accompany property division.
Across the US, there are two common ways to divide property:
- Equitable property division, in which the parties divide marital property "equitably" (not necessarily a 50/50 split), and;
- Community property division, in which the parties divide marital property equally.
California is a community property state, meaning spouses must divide property equally.
However, other factors in the divorce can play a role in property division. For example, if children are involved in the divorce and one parent receives sole custody, the custodial parent may receive the marital home to help them care for the children. While that's technically not an "equal" split of the property, it's justified because it helps achieve other objectives the court considers more important (ensuring the children maintain a good quality of life post-divorce).
Does a Court Have to Decide My Property Division Case?
You can take care of the property division process out of court using a method of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) such as mediation or collaborative divorce, if you wish.
To resolve the property division process in California, spouses must:
- Decide whether an asset or liability is marital (community) property or separate property;
- Agree on a value for the marital property;
- Compromise on how to divide the property.
For example, let's say you own a car with your spouse. You must:
- Decide whether it's marital or separate property. A number of factors, such as whose name is on the license or deed, whether both parties have contributed to maintenance costs, and who drives it more, can all play into this decision.
- Give a value to the property. Typically, spouses (or their attorneys) hire a financial professional specializing in asset valuation to determine how much the marital property is worth.
- Divide the property. If you're taking care of property division outside of court, this means negotiating with your spouse. Perhaps you get the car, but must give up something in return. Perhaps you decide to sell the car and split the profits. If you go through a court, you must each present your case to the judge, who will then make a decision on your behalf.
Because the property division process often involves assets that hold considerable financial and emotional significance to the parties, it can be (and often is) one of the more contentious parts of any divorce.
What's the Best Way to Divide Property?
The answer to this question is case-dependent, so consult your lawyer regularly as you proceed with your case. However, here are some general rules of thumb that may be useful for you:
- Consider pursuing an amicable resolution. Frequently, trying to keep things low-conflict is the best way to get what you want from the property division process. If you and your spouse are on good terms, it decreases the chances of one party taking an "eye for an eye" approach out of spite.
- Try to keep an equal exchange of assets. For example, if your soon-to-be-ex offers to give you an asset, offer to give them one back. Maintaining an equal exchange of power can help you push for the things you want, as long as you're willing to give up some things the other party would like in return.
- The court can give you some protection against manipulation. Generally, courts and lawyers prefer resolving disputes outside of court since it typically takes less time, stress, and money than litigating something in the courtroom.
At Gille Kay Law Group, PC, we'll work with you to find the best path forward in your property division case.
To schedule a consultation with our team or learn more about our other family law services, contact us onlineor via phone at (626) 340-0955.