If you have any spent any amount of time researching how divorce works in California, you probably already know that California law divides two spouses’ property into separate property and community property. Separate property is the property each spouse had before their marriage or was gifted to them individually, while community property is generally all the property that either spouse earned or acquired during the marriage, regardless of which spouse’s efforts were responsible for the property. And you may also know that community property is split 50/50 between the spouses. But how does that actually work in practice, especially when indivisible pieces of property are involved?
California Judges Will Not “Split the Baby”
In the Old Testament, King Solomon was revered for his wisdom. One of the famous stories supporting this reputation was his suggestion that he could resolve a dispute between two women, both claiming to be the mother of the baby, by splitting the baby in two, with each woman taking half (the idea being the real mother would allow the other woman to have the baby, thus revealing the true mother). Rest assured, a California family court judge will not offer to draw a big red boundary line down the middle of your vacation home to saw your Mustang GT in half (as much as the thought of that might thrill your spouse or you). Instead the judge will endeavor for both spouses to walk out of the divorce with a pool of non-split community property assets roughly equal to one another. This is called the aggregate theory of community property, the idea being spouses should not be expected to move forward with a one-half interest in property that they share with their ex-spouse.
How Division Actually Occurs
Ideally, you and your spouse will work together, with the assistance of experienced family law attorneys, to divide your community property assets in a way that is mutually beneficial to both parties and fair under the law. Although this may seem impossible to accomplish during the emotional breakdown of the relationship, many couples are able to do this in a civil and fair manner with the assistance of their attorneys. By doing so, spouses can keep their legal expenses down, speed the process along, and work together to divide the property in a way that works for both of them. So long as the division is fair in light of California law, the court should approve the agreement.
But where couples cannot reach an agreement on how their community property should be divided, the court will step in and the judge will make this decision for them. Again, the judge will seek to create roughly equal cumulative pools of property which should go to each spouse, and the judge has wide discretion under the law on how he or she chooses to do this. In some cases, the court may decide to liquidate a jointly-held piece of property (e.g. a family house) to properly split the cumulative amount of property. Where a family business is involved, the court may award the property solely to the spouse possessing the skills and ability to continue the business.
Speak to an experienced California family law attorney for further information regarding property division in your specific matter.
Get Answers to Your Legal Questions on California Divorces
To schedule a consultation to discuss any issues related to spousal support in a California divorce or any other questions or concerns you have about the California divorce process, contact one of the family law attorneys at Kearney Baker today.