How Is Property Divided in a California Divorce?

Many people carry misconceptions about property division in divorce. If you are planning to end your marriage in California, it’s vital to understand the state laws that will apply to your dissolution proceedings. Property division is often one of the most contentious aspects of divorce. Knowing what to expect in your case will help you maintain practical and realistic expectations regarding the potential outcomes you face.

Divorce is a complex and multifaceted process, and both divorcing spouses must be prepared to disclose extensive financial records regarding property division. The financial disclosure process is an important first step in ensuring a fair division of marital property in a California divorce, and honesty is crucial. While you may hate the thought of dividing your assets with your soon-to-be ex-spouse, the fact is that California’s community property law is strict and clear, and any attempt to hide assets can be met with severe criminal penalties.

Understanding the Community Property Law of California

Every state upholds different statutes regarding property division in divorce, and California is one of nine US states that use community property rules. Under this type of property division, each spouse can keep their respective separate property, but all marital property must be split evenly. While this may seem like the fairest possible way to resolve property division in divorce, every marriage is different. It is common for divorcing spouses in California to see the community property law as overbearing and unfair in specific situations.

Division of property under the community property statute may entail assigning separate ownership of assets previously owned jointly by the married couple. They may also need to liquidate certain assets and divide the proceeds. Before any of this can happen, however, both spouses must submit their financial disclosure statements for the court’s consideration. The court will review these records, address any discrepancies that arise, and then the couple’s marital property can be divided evenly.

Attempting to hide assets in divorce proceedings carries severe penalties. At the very least, a spouse found to have lied in their financial disclosure statement faces contempt of court. They could also face prosecution if they engaged in fraud or other criminal behavior. Working with an attorney to complete your financial disclosure statement is the best way to avoid any potential accusations of lying or intentionally omitting required records.

“Marital property” includes income earned by spouses during their marriage, assets acquired using marital funds, investments, and real property acquired during their marriage. “Separate property” is anything legally exempt from property division, enabling the spouse who owns it to keep it after divorce. Separate property usually includes property owned before the marriage’s beginning, inheritance, and gifts. If any controversies arise regarding the legal definition of property in a divorce case, experienced legal counsel may be essential for resolving these problems.

Alternative Dispute Resolution for California Divorce

When divorcing spouses take their case to family court and litigate dissolution proceedings, the judge overseeing their case has the final say on every aspect of their divorce order. Litigation is time-consuming, stressful, and expensive, and it’s natural for anyone to want to limit the time they need to spend in the courtroom to resolve their divorce. As a result, many couples throughout California choose alternative dispute resolution to avoid the stress and expense of divorce.

Divorce mediation and other alternatives to litigation can save both spouses time and money in their divorce as long as they are willing to negotiate. While their property division agreement must align with California’s property division law, they have much more room to customize their terms when they opt for alternative dispute resolution. For example, if a judge would require them to liquidate certain assets and divide the proceeds, the couple could negotiate “trades” of specific assets or customize a spousal support agreement to offset the need for an exact 50/50 division of property.

It’s important to remember that if you intend to explore alternative dispute resolution for your divorce, you will still need to brace for some measure of litigation. A judge must review and approve any privately negotiated divorce order. Divorce-related issues cannot be resolved in a private settlement, such as child custody-related matters or complex high-value asset division. Most California divorce attorneys will advise their clients to take full advantage of alternative dispute resolution and resolve as much as they can privately before taking their remaining issues to court.

Do I Really Need to Hire an Attorney?

California’s community property law for divorce may seem overbearing, and anyone facing complex dissolution proceedings is likely to have many important legal questions regarding the division of marital assets in their impending divorce. One of the most pressing legal questions many divorcing spouses have is whether they should hire legal representation. Many believe divorce lawyers to be prohibitively expensive and only necessary for wealthy couples’ divorces. This is untrue, and your divorce could carry significant financial repercussions that affect your life for many years to come, even if you and your spouse control limited assets.

Hiring the right attorney can make a tremendous difference in the outcome of property division in your divorce. While the community property law leaves little flexibility for the division of assets in some divorces, you could have more options for resolving your divorce than you initially expected. Working with an experienced attorney is the best way to take full advantage of all your legal options for settling property division. In addition, if your divorce entails complex financial issues, then legal counsel you can trust will be especially important if you want to reach agreeable results.

McCunn Law for Property Division Issues in CA

McCunn Law has years of professional experience representing California clients in difficult divorce cases. We know how contentious and aggravating property division determinations can be and want to help you approach this aspect of your divorce with some peace of mind. Contact us today if you are ready to speak with an experienced California divorce attorney about your concerns with the property division.