California has plenty of high-profile family law cases due to the number of rich and famous people who live in the state. And, when there’s a lot of property at stake, divorces can get complicated.
Still, while the details can be very different from one divorce to the next, they all share some common issues when it comes to property division, whether the couple is wealthy or of average means. There are common denominators will all situations in which people are in dispute over property division that can be used as a guideline for every case.
Community property, separate property and a combination
There are three ways in which property in California is categorized when it is analyzed as part of a divorce. The state treats property that was acquired after a couple was married as community property meaning that anything they acquired belongs to both and will generally be split evenly. Property that was owned by either person before the marriage will be separate property.
Some property, however, ends up being a mix of community and separate property. This can lead to dispute and confusion. In any divorce, regardless of income, assets and financial standing, this can be a sticking point in reaching a positive conclusion. Known as commingled property, this can be more difficult to determine who contributed what and how it should be divided.
Hypothetically, if the couple purchased items after they were married and they had a shared bank account with both earning an income, there might not be an easy way to discover who has the right to it. This can be made more difficult if both say they have a claim and want the property.
For example, if one person used their money to buy a home, it will be separate property. If they paid the mortgage together, community property is being used to pay the debt. Property that increases in value will be commingled with both having a claim to it. The same is true for retirement accounts, investments and other financial devices. With people who had a business or an idea that suddenly took off after they had little at the time of their marriage face even greater complexity in deciding who is entitled to what.
People might be on good enough terms that they can negotiate a settlement on their own. Perhaps exchanging one property for another could be an effective resolution. In many instances, the sides are not on good terms. This is common in some divorces regardless of their income and assets. Knowing how property is labeled and what can be done to reach an acceptable result generally requires qualified legal assistance.