What are the Laws in California About How Marital Property Will be Distributed After Divorce?

Marital property in California is categorized as either community property or separate property, also called non-community property. How the property is categorized will determine how it is distributed in the divorce.

Community property is property that was acquired during the marriage other than by means of either an inheritance or a gift to one spouse, according to California Family Code section 760. Each spouse holds one-half interest in community property from the marriage. In a California divorce, all community property must be divided equally between the two parties.

Separate property is property that was acquired by one spouse either before marriage or acquired during marriage by inheritance or given from a third party, according to California Family Code section 770. Also, property acquired during the marriage but after the parties have separated and started living apart is considered separate property. In a California divorce, separate property remains with the spouse who acquired it.

California is one of the few community property states which do not employ the concept of equitable distribution in dividing marital property. In equitable distribution states, assets and earnings accumulated during the marriage are divided equitably (fairly), based on the earning power of the spouses and other factors. Generally, this means the higher wage earner in the marriage receives two-thirds of the assets while one-third will be awarded to the other spouse.

In California and other community property states, property acquired in an equitable distribution state is treated as quasi-community property.  Quasi-community property is property which was acquired by either spouse in a non-community property state and would have been community property had the couple been residents of the community property state at the time they acquired the property. In a California divorce, quasi-community property is divided up 50-50, just like community property.

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