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Introduction to community property

California is a community property state. Community property laws require equitable division of jointly owned and commingled property. Accurately identifying community property is crucial to achieving an outcome that protects each party’s property rights.

Assets acquired before marriage are not community property; however, all earnings made during your marriage and items purchased with your earnings are community property. Debt accumulated during your marriage is also community property.

Community property vs. separate property

Examples of separate property include:

  • Gifts
  • Inheritance
  • Assets covered by a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement
  • Proceeds from the sale of separate property
  • Rents from separate property
  • Assets acquired after your separation date
  • Debts accumulated after your separation date

Commingled Property:

Rules of thumb for identifying community property:

  1. Consider the source of money that paid for the item
  2. Consider when the item was acquired

Commingled property can make things complicated. Commingling happens when one spouse owns the property before marriage but mixes it with community property. For example, if your personal bank account becomes the community joint account after marriage, what separate money you had before marriage will be mixed with community money after marriage.

There is no substitute for the advice of an experienced divorce attorney if a separation is in your future. Deciding how to divide assets in the heat of a divorce can be difficult. A knowledgeable attorney can bring a calm and thorough approach to navigating California’s community property laws. 

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