In community property states such as California, each spouse is considered an equal partner in the marriage, meaning that upon dissolution, each spouse is automatically considered the owner of 50% of all property acquired during the marriage. For example, if your husband purchased a car when you were married, you as his wife are the automatic owner of 50% of the vehicle upon marital dissolution in California.
However, this is only a starting point for property distribution, and courts have significant discretion the way that property is ultimately divided, so it is advisable for anyone going through a divorce to speak to an attorney as soon as possible. Our Los Angeles divorce lawyers have extensive experience in dealing with property division in a divorce case.
Your first step is to call our law firm so we can closely examine all the details in order to determine your best legal options moving forward. The manner in which your property is divided after a divorce can have a dramatic impact on your financial situation as well as your quality of life. You need to do everything possible to make sure your legal rights are protected.
California Community Property Distribution Law
Despite the fact that the community property system is supposed to simplify the marital dissolution and distribution process, there is seldom anything simple about divorce. California law governing property distribution is complex, and ultimately the court has great discretion in determining the proper distribution of marital assets. Although spouses own community property 50/50, the court can still change this distribution default under certain circumstances.
For example, if one party has abandoned the marriage and not appeared in the proceedings, the court might award a smaller estate to the appearing party in full. Further, not all property is classified as community property in California, and there are actually three separate categories of property each governed by independent distribution laws.
It is essential you contact a qualified Los Angeles family law attorney to assist you in the divorce and distribution process. In fact, even the courts of California strongly recommend seeking attorney assistance in this matter. See related: California Community Property Laws.
California Property Classifications
When property is being distributed during the dissolution process, the first thing the court, with the assistance of the attorneys, must do is “classify” your property as either “community property,” “separate property,” or “mixed property.” Community property is any property acquired during the marriage (other than an inheritance or gifts given to one spouse only), and community property generally includes all of the following:
- Bank accounts and cash
- Pension and 401(k) plans
- Stocks, and
- A business
Things can get especially complex when one or both of the parties started a business during the marriage and the court must determine how to distribute future earnings, tax benefits, and assets. “Mixed property” is property that was acquired during the marriage but while you and your spouse were living in a non-community property state. For example, if you were married and living in Florida when your wife purchased a vehicle in her name with her assets, in Florida the vehicle would be considered your wife's personal property upon divorce.
In California, however, mixed property is considered community property and will be distributed as such during divorce proceedings. Finally, separate property is property acquired before your marriage, and it remains your personal property even after you are married. Further, any inheritance or economic benefit derived from separate property, such as rental income, is generally also considered separate property. It should be noted that if one spouse receives an inheritance, it's considered separate property and doesn't have to be shared.
You Should Retain an Attorney as Soon as You Recognize Divorce May Be on the Horizon
Many people are hesitant to retain a divorce attorney when they first realize that a divorce may be in their future, as they are holding out hope for reconciliation with their spouse. It is important to understand that hiring a lawyer does not necessarily mean that you will go through with the divorce – but it certainly will ensure that you are fully aware of your rights and how your actions may affect the division of property and other issues should you ultimately get divorced.
For example, if you (or your spouse) engage in reckless spending in the months prior to your divorce, the court may determine that the spending constituted “dissipation” community estate an impute that loss against you (or your spouse).
Contact a Qualified Los Angeles Property Distribution Attorney Today
If you were either married outside of California or are concerned about a spouse's access to marital property during the divorce process, hiring an experienced Los Angeles family law attorney can assist you in simplifying this difficult process and protecting your rights. Furman & Zavatsky LLP has the experienced attorneys you need to aid you with the California property distribution process.
Our divorce attorneys can help you determine whether settlement or litigation is the best choice for you, as well as how your assets are likely to be classified. Contact us today for a free, no risk consultation at 818-528-3471. Serving the greater Los Angeles area.