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Community Property in California FAQ

Community property in California is defined as any asset acquired or income earned by a married person while living with a spouse. Separate property is defined as anything acquired by a spouse before the marriage, during the marriage by gift, devise, or bequest, and after the parties separate.

So….I read the definition, What is community property in California?

In layman’s terms, it is anything you bought or earned during the time you and your spouse were married and living as spouses. Ooooh, one more thing. Community Property in California is community property unless it is separate property.

So…What is separate property?

Separate property is property you bought or earned before you and your spouse were married or after you stopped living together. It is also property you got while married that was a gift or that you received as a beneficiary of a last will and testament. There are a few one off items, as well, that make it into this category, like a majority of student loan debt.

What happens if a piece of property is determined to be community property in California?

In California, community property must be divided 50/50. Of course if you opt to mediate your dissolution, you can construct any division of property and offset of debt scenario that makes sense in your situation. In a courtroom, outside of an agreement of some sort, you will not have this sort of freedom. Although the division is not in-kind….they don’t divide every asset down the middle….it is certainly not going to be the division you and your soon to be ex-spouse can create through mediation.

When does community property in California end my spouses right to my income.

That is the central argument in many a courtroom, “what is our separation date?” Your question is also the answer to why it is so hotly contested, whatever date you agree upon as  your separation date, is the date that community property is determined. Beyond your separation date, your earnings are your own. They are no longer half your spouses, as they were when you were living together. Unless, of course, you remain living together. Or, you have community property obligations..every situation is different and this is a great example of one, small, piece of what most people look at as minutia. It is a BIG deal in court. If you choose to litigate, arguing over when your community property rights end can be protracted.

I built our family business myself, without any help from my wife. Why do I have to give her half?

The reason is plain and simple: Community Property in California. Usually an accountant or analyst is brought in to value the business, assessing good will, as well as inherent value. If you choose to mediate through Pacific Coast Mediation, we offer the assistance of a Certified Financial Planner to help guide you to an agreed upon number or to an outside valuation expert. Bottom line is that you can construct how the business will be divided, or one spouse bought out. You have that power.

I have a pension through my work, can we just mediate it as part of the settlement?

Pensions and other retirement plans usually require a Qualified Domestic Relations Order, or Q.D.R.O. (pronounced Quad-Ro), even after the court has ruled, or you have agreed upon a mediated settlement. A Q.D.R.O. makes your retirement plan a party to the divorce and makes it possible for the plan to divide the pension pursuant to the terms of the court order. Whether you go to court or mediate, this will be an additional expense. If you are lucky enough to mediate through Pacific Coast Mediation, we can direct you to a professional who will prepare your needed Q.D.R.O. at a reasonable rate.

What is Quasi Community Property in California? Is it treated different than community property?

Quasi community Property is property that you acquired in any form while living outside of California. If you had been living in California when you bought the property, it would have been community property. Quasi community property is treated as if it were community property in California.

I sold my house when we got married and used the equity as a down payment for our marital home. Can property be both community and separate property?

It sure can, and this is were the waters get very muddy. This principle is called commingling and it is a common occurrence in real property issues as well as pension issues when a spouse started their job prior to marriage.

Community Property in California can be simple and straightforward or can be fodder for endless, protracted litigation. The court time spent arguing about a separation date or trying to unwind commingled property is likely to be intense and costly. The good news is that through mediation, even the most complex cases are successfully divided without the tumult involved in litigation.