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Separate and marital property in a community property system

Those who go through a divorce can find it difficult to go from a situation where they rely on their own income as well as their spouse's to one where they must rely on themselves. Of course, as has been discussed previously on this blog, there may be options for obtaining compensation from a former spouse in the form of alimony and child support, but property division, too, can play a significant role in shaping an individual's financial well-being post-divorce.

So how is property divided in a divorce? California adheres to community property laws, meaning that all marital property will be equally divided, as opposed to equitably divided. This means that spouses equally own all earnings, property purchased with earnings, and debt incurred during the course of the marriage. 'Marriage" under the community property standard begins when the marriage starts, of course, but ends when the couple physically separates with no intention of continuing the relationship.

Besides signing a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement, one way Californians can avoid losing property to division through divorce is to maintain separate property. To do this, an individual can choose to avoid comingling funds with those of their spouse, and avoid incurring debt after physical separation. Money or property that is inherited by one spouse is considered separate property, too, but this status can change if it is comingled with a spouse's property.

With this in mind, those considering divorce should carefully consider how best to protect their financial interests. This often begins well before divorce paperwork is even filed. Those who wish to learn more about how to utilize the law to their advantage during this trying time can speak to a family law professional who will diligently work on their behalf.

Source: FindLaw, "Who Owns What in Marital Property?" accessed on Feb. 6, 2017

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