Los Angeles Property Division Lawyer
Even under the best of circumstances, divorce is a complicated legal matter. The marriage dissolution and property distribution process in Los Angeles County differs from that utilized throughout the majority of the nation. This is because California is a “community property” state, which means that it adheres to a distinct system of classifying property acquired during marriage.
Who gets to keep the family pet in a divorce? How can I divide property? What about the family business? As a result, you should do everything you can to ensure that your legal rights in your marital estate are fully protected, which starts with retaining an experienced Los Angeles family law attorney.
What is Community Property?
In community property states, each spouse is considered a co-equal partner in the marriage, with each contributing either “capital” or “labor” to the marriage union. As such, each spouse is automatically considered to be the owner of 50% of all property acquired during the marriage regardless of which spouse acquired the property.
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. See related: California Community Property Laws.
California Property Classifications
When a marriage is being dissolved in Los Angeles County, the court must “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), which can include all of the following:
- Real Estate
- Vehicles, Boats, and Trailers
- Checking Accounts
- Savings Accounts
- Employee Benefits
- Pension and 401(k) retirement plans
- Stocks, Bonds, and Secured Notes
- Partnerships and Other Business Interests
Remember, community property is co-owned by each spouse. 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 New York when your wife purchased a vehicle in her name, in New York the vehicle would be considered your wife's personal property.
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. In some cases, a subpoena may be needed. Further, any inheritance or economic benefit derived from separate property, such as rental income, is also considered separate property. See our blog: How Will a California Court Divide Our Property in a Divorce?
California Community Property Distribution Law
California law governing property distribution is complex, and although the community property system might seem simplifying, the court has great discretion in determining the proper distribution of assets.
Although spouses own community property 50/50, the court can still award greater benefits to one party under certain circumstances. For example, if one party cannot be located, the court might award smaller estates to the other party in full. It should be noted that if one spouse receives an inheritance, it's considered separate property and doesn't have to be shared. If a spouse receives a personal injury settlement, it will depend on when the accident happened.
The court also has discretion to change the general distribution scheme if one party misappropriated assets. With three separate property classifications as well as a multitude of exceptions to general distribution principles, it is essential you contact a qualified California 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 our blog: What If My Spouse Is Recklessly Spending During our Divorce Process?
Reaching a Settlement is the Ideal Solution in Most Cases
While the information above discusses the way in which a court will decide property division in a contested divorce, the ideal scenario is one in which you and your soon-to-be ex can agree on the way that you will divide your marital estate. Doing so will remove uncertainty from the process and ensure that any personal issues regarding particular assets are addressed and taken into consideration.
For example, you may value a particular asset more than your spouse, and negotiating a settlement without the intervention of the court would allow you have that fact taken into consideration. You could even choose arbitration, which is less expensive and can be an excellent option to avoid a costly legal battle in front of a judge and it also keeps the specific details of your separation private.
Because people who are getting divorced often have difficulty communicating in a constructive way, the representation of a family law attorney can significantly increase the chances that you and your spouse will be able to come to an agreement and not need to resort to litigation. California family law courts require a mandatory declaration of financial disclosures must be exchanged between in divorce cases.
If the parties cannot reach an agreement, then the court has to step in and determine the proper allocation of assets between the parties. Reaching an agreement includes five steps:
- Identifying the property and debts involved in the marriage
- Valuing the assets
- Determining whether the assets are community or separate property
- Allocating the assets between the parties, according to their needs and in consideration of applicable law
- Court approval of the settlement agreement as fair and equitable
Call a Los Angeles Divorce and Family Law Attorney
Divorce and property distribution can be an emotionally draining process, not to mention a complex one. Nobody wants to consider the possibility going through a divorce, but it's often a reality one might face. Knowing the law and having a plan in place to protect assets prior to marriage is crucial.
Hiring an experienced Los Angeles divorce attorney can greatly increase your peace of mind about the process. At Furman & Zavatsky LLP, our Los Angeles and San Fernando Valley family law lawyers have the experienced you need to assist you with asset division.
We 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.