California is one of only a few states that considers marital property to be communal, meaning it belongs equally to each spouse, regardless as to how the item, asset, or property was actually obtained. You could pay 100% for an item while you are married and half of its value would still technically belong to your spouse. This community property rule for property division is the groundwork for heated disputes in a lot of divorces in the state.
But what about property that you acquired before you were married? Do you have to split that up, too, if you and your spouse call it quits?
Separate Property Rules in California
Separate property is any sort of property – cash, control of businesses, real estate property, material goods, etc. – that you had acquired before marriage. It is called “separate” because it does not get included in community property should you ever divorce. Certain pieces of inheritances or gifts made directly to you in particular can also be considered separate property, even if you are married at the time you obtain them.
You cannot simply assume that your separate property has stayed that way throughout your marriage, however. If your spouse frequently benefitted from a piece of separate property, or if they took reasonable effort to improve upon a piece of separate property, it could become community property. For example, if you owned your home before you got married but then your spouse helped you with renovations that increased its sell-value, they would probably be given a 50% share of that home’s value in your divorce. As another example, if you were given a lump sum of cash in inheritance and used it to fund your spouse’s college education, the money has become community property because it benefitted them and contributed to their lifestyle significantly.
In the end, it is always the safer choice to consult with a Southern California divorce attorney before you get too involved with property division. Without the guidance of a professional lawyer, you could accidentally give up items that are not communal, or illegitimately attempt to hold onto items that actually are not separate. Feel free to contact Holstrom, Block & Parke, APLC to speak to our team about your case and options today.