In community property states, like California, all assets common to the marital community must be divided equally upon divorce. Marital property is anything acquired during the course of the marriage, yet prior to separation. It can also include the appreciation or growth of certain property acquired prior to the marriage but contributed to by the marital community during the marriage.

Intangible assets, like patents, copyrights, and royalties, may not produce steady or predictable income, yet they are valuable for their potential to produce income and rise in value.

They may not have been bought, but were gradually acquired through hard work and appreciated based on supply and demand. Intellectual property is nonetheless subject to California’s community property rule, however, because their value is usually a result of years of contributions and hard work, they may have been well underway prior to the marriage. For example, if a scientist spends several years prior to marriage building a device to patent, but patents it after marriage, it doesn’t necessarily become community property because the contributions did not come from the marital community. A good way to think about this concept simply is that in a marital community, you get out what you put in.

If you support your spouse while they work on a patent or copyright during the marriage, regardless of what value it had at the time of separation, you are a contributing member to the value when it does actualize. On the other hand, if that scientist developed and refined a device during the course of the marriage as a result of community efforts, but didn’t patent it until after separation, the wife, as a result of her contributions during the marriage, would be entitled to a portion of the value of the patent.

For the purposes of asset and debt division in a divorce, it is implied that a spouse supported his or her spouse or otherwise contributed to the acquiring of the asset or debt. Even if the spouse had no direct hand in it. Intellectual property can be separate property, community property or, more commonly, a mix. This mix is called commingled property and is complex to divide. Having an experienced family law attorney help you in dividing commingled property is the best way to ensure you get the full value of the assets you are entitled to.

Do you have questions about intellectual property and divorce? Certified Family Law Specialist Mark H. Karney has experience representing high net-worth individuals and handling complex divorces involving intellectual property in Los Angeles County. Serving Los Angeles and surrounding areas, California family law attorney Mark H. Karney offers efficient and tenacious legal counsel. Call our office at 310-622-9434; email us at or contact us through our online form today to schedule a free consultation.