California is known as a "community property" state. That means that property and other assets (including income) acquired by spouses -- separately or together -- during the marriage are considered to belong to both of them.
Under California law, property includes anything that has value as well as anything that can be sold or bought. Some examples of property that many divorcing couples have included:
- Bank accounts
- Retirement accounts
- Insurance policies
- Stocks and securities
Under California law, there's a presumption that any property that a couple possesses is jointly owned, and therefore, is to be equally divided if they divorce. That means the burden of proof is on the spouse who challenges this presumption to show that an asset isn't jointly owned.
Even if property is acquired in a noncommunity property state, it becomes community property (or more accurately, "quasi-community property,") if the divorcing couple lives in California.
Any property acquired before the marriage is considered separate property and not subject to division -- unless it's become "commingled" with marital property. For example, if a spouse contributed to the mortgage payments or remodeling of a home owned by their husband or wife before they were married, that home has become commingled property and subject to division.
A prenuptial agreement is a good way to avoid having to divide assets earned or acquired during the marriage. You can stipulate that certain assets will remain yours alone in a divorce. Of course, you have to take steps to avoid commingling for such prenup provisions to be enforced. A postnuptial agreement can accomplish the same thing. Both partners have to agree to the provisions in either a prenup or postnup.
Even if you're only considering divorce (or believe that your spouse may be), it's important to learn more about how property division in divorce works under California law. An experienced attorney can provide valuable information and guidance.