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Understanding Community Property vs. Separate Property

f you are concerned about the property you could potentially lose in your divorce, you are not alone.

California is a community property state, and while the law calls for an equal division of community property when two people get divorced, the meaning of "equal" is often the subject of dispute and divorce litigation.

What counts as community property?

Community property -- commonly referred to as marital property -- typically includes assets and debts that were acquired by either spouse during the course of the marriage. That is, unless a written prenuptial or post-nuptial agreement states otherwise. Here are examples of the kinds of assets that may be considered community property:

  • Real estate
  • Artwork and home furnishings
  • Vehicles
  • Bank accounts
  • Investment holdings
  • Retirement plans
  • Intellectual property

What counts as separate property?

This is a major question in many California divorces that involve business ownership and other complex assets. Separate property is not necessarily divisible in a divorce, but if you claim that you have separate property, you will have to show that it is separate by tracing it to its source.

For example, the value of a business on the marriage date may be categorized as separate property, even as the increase in value after that date is considered community property and thus divisible. Also, if you received an inheritance during the marriage, that money may be separate, as long as the inheritance wasn't mingled with community property. Commingling of separate property with community property can result in all of the property being categorized as a community.

You need skilled legal counsel in these matters.

If you fear that divorce could undermine your future financial stability, do not hesitate to speak with an experienced family law attorney about your concerns. A lawyer with experience in these matters will have the legal knowledge and professional resources to help ensure a fair divorce settlement.