California is considered a community property state which has lasting implications that impact how property is divided in a divorce. This differs from the laws in most other states which generally are classified as separate property states. In general, community property means that spouses who acquire property during their marriage generally own property equally between themselves. During a divorce, this means that the property accumulated during marriage between the parties is typically divided equally as well.
The concept seems simple enough on paper. Many of my clients struggle with the fact that this applies to all assets in their divorce case. I like to simplify the concept as follows.
Let’s pretend that when you get married, you receive a pot in which you are required to contribute any money you receive from work each day. If these people chooses to divorce after two years any money in the pot will be split in half between them. The pot in this scenario can be applied to bank accounts, retirement accounts, real property, personal property, and more. In this scenario, it is possible that one party contributed much more money in the pot compared to the other party during marriage. However when property is divided in a divorce, each party could receive 50% of the assets in the pot. This is true even though one party might have technically contributed more than the other because of a higher salary.
How property is divided in California
Here, the public policy of California favors a more equal division of property between a married couple. The courts may be less concerned with who made exactly what money, and who contributed what during the marriage. In plain terms, a married couple can be likened to “one person” during marriage. Any earned assets are combined when married. Once there is a divorce, all the combined assets acquired during marriage could be split equitably between them. This is in general, a simplification and bars other legal considerations but the principle remains true.
Community property laws in California can be difficult to grasp. Please do not hesitate to consult us at Burgos Santoyo Smith or another family law attorney to assist with optimizing your legal strategy for your divorce.