Property division can be one of the most difficult issues in divorce, even under the best of circumstances. And if the couple has a lot of assets, and they have become intertwined throughout the marriage, it can be hard to tell who should keep what.
The basics of property division
California is a community property state. This means that, at the outset of a divorce, the court will classify all assets (and debts) as either community property or separate property. Community property is that which was acquired during the marriage and is, therefore, owned by both spouses. This includes physical property, income and debts. Generally, community property is divided evenly between the spouses.
Separate property is that which was owned by one spouse prior to the marriage. It may also include gifts or inheritances acquired during the marriage. Separate property is typically retained by the spouse who owned it.
What is commingled property?
Where things get particularly complicated is when separate property has become mixed in some way with community property. A common type of commingled property occurs when one spouse owned a house prior to the marriage. They then sold the house and used the proceeds to purchase a marital home. Or a spouse could have a retirement account prior to the marriage. It is separate property before then but, throughout the marriage, it’s considered community property.
What, then, are the different spouses entitled to when property is commingled? How much and for how long? These are questions that can only be answered on a case by case basis, and require a great deal of experience. If you’re trying to get a better understanding for your own divorce, seek the help of a knowledgeable professional accustomed to handling complex issues of property division.