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Overview of community property and separate property

On Behalf of | May 17, 2024 | Property Division |

Any of our readers who are contemplating a divorce in California might know that this state follows the community property approach, which is different from the vast majority of the other states. Understanding the differences of this approach to divorce, as well as the difference between community property and separate property, is key for many people who want to make sure they are maximizing their options when it comes to property and debt division in a divorce.

Community property defined

There are two ways to look at community property. The first is the overall view of how property and debt division is handled under California law. In short, the community property approach means that, in general, the spouses jointly own all the property they acquire during their marriage. Should they later divorce, this means each spouse has an equal claim to assets and debts in their community property.

In . This differs from most other states, which use the equitable distribution approach, in which the assets are divided fairly under the circumstances – not necessarily a 50/50 split and obviously somewhat subjective.

When looking at a divorcing couple’s assets, the community property consists of all assets and debts the couple has accumulated together during the marriage – also referred to as marital property. What falls under the umbrella of community property is important because only that property will be subject to the typical 50/50 split in the property division stage of the divorce.

The term “separate property” refers to another crucial concept. In the terms of a divorce, this means, for example, property that one or the other spouse owned prior to the divorce, or perhaps inherited solely. If certain assets are deemed to be separate property, those assets will not be subject to division in the divorce.


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