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What kinds of property does California have?

When you and your spouse decide to divorce, one of the things you must agree on is how you will split up the property you have accumulated during your marriage. If the two of you cannot agree, a judge will determine who gets what.

You need to be aware that California is a community property state. As explained by the California Court System, this means that, with two exceptions, you and your spouse jointly own all of the property and debt the two of you have accumulated during your marriage. The two exceptions are your respective separate property and your quasi-community property; i.e., the separate property that you and your spouse commingled with community property.

Community property

Community property is simple. It is the things you and your spouse acquired from the date of your marriage to the date on which you legally separated or become divorced, unless you signed a pre- or post-nuptial agreement stating otherwise. It makes no difference which of you actually bought the property or whose earnings, bank account or credit card paid for it. It belongs to you equally. Likewise with any debts you currently have. No matter who took out the loan or racked up the credit card balance, the debt belongs to you equally.

Separate property

Separate property is simple as well. It consists of such things as the following:

  • Property you owned prior to your marriage
  • Your retirement account(s) and/or 401(k)
  • Anything you inherited during your marriage
  • Any gifts you received individually as opposed to jointly

Quasi-community property

It is your and your spouse’s quasi-community property that becomes complicated. For instance, suppose you and your spouse lived somewhere other than California at some point during your marriage. Suppose while there you bought an expensive piece of jewelry with your own earnings. That state likely considered the jewelry as your separate property unless it, too, is a community property state.

However, the jewelry that the other state considered as yours is now community property since you and your spouse are now living here and divorcing here. Why? Because had you bought the jewelry while living in California, it would have been community property. As ludicrous as that sounds, it nevertheless is California’s community property law. This information is provided for educational purposes and should not be interpreted as legal advice.