Under California’s community property law, all property that belongs to the marital community must be divided equally upon separation or divorce. Community property is considered property acquired by either spouse during the marriage, but prior to separation, and with community resources.
Property acquired prior to marriage is considered separate property. Property acquired during the course of the marriage can still be separate property if it is acquired through a gift or inheritance of some kind.
A spouse can do what they choose with their separate property, including transferring it to another person, the other spouse or making it property of the marital community through transmutation.
Keeping separate property apart from community property from the beginning of a marriage is the best way to ensure the property is not divided with the community property during a divorce. The best way to do so is to not transmute it in any way. Don’t take action to attach your spouse’s name to the ownership of the property like adding them to the deed of a house or the title of a car. If the separate property is in the form of cash, keep it in a separate account in only your name. Similarly, using it to contribute to community expenses can complicate the property division down the road.
It is also important to keep excellent records from the date of marriage onward to document what the separate property prior to marriage was. If the separate property is a house or something on loan and is paid down with community funds during the marriage, the community will have an ownership interest in that property at the time of separation. This is called comingled or mixed property. An experienced family law attorney can help you calculate exactly how much interest the marital community has in your property and what portion remains your separate property. Mortgage and loan terms can make this difficult so you may want to consult with a family law attorney with experience in complex property division to handle this.
After the date of separation, all property acquired is separate property. In California, the date of separation in this case can be either a legal separation or simply the date you decided to divorce and/or moved out. Keep good record of this too. All in all, excellent record keeping and careful management of separate property can help protect your assets at the time of divorce.
Are you in the Los Angeles area and have questions about managing your separate property? Certified Family Law Specialist Mark H. Karney has experience handling complex property division in Los Angeles County. Serving the Los Angeles and Beverley Hills area, Mark H. Karney offers efficient and tenacious legal counsel and will protect your assets. Call our office at 310-622-9434; email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or contact us through our online form today to schedule a free consultation.