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Understanding California state law on the division of property

Something couples going through a divorce in California may not fully understand is that where they live when obtaining a divorce can substantially affect their divorce decree. While many states have similar laws when it comes to a spectrum of subjects including child custody, business law and civil negligence law, they diverge on issues of property division. Knowing how the property division process works in California can mean fewer surprises down the road.

A majority of states divide property in the event of divorce on the concept of equitable division of property. This means that a couple's marital property is not merely split down the middle. Instead, the court considers the separate of income of each individual, his or her future potential for earnings, child custody time and more in determining how to divide the assets. The ultimate goal in the end is to ensure each couple is left with a similar balance of assets or the potential to gain assets.

In contrast, a minority of states will address property division on a community property theory. This theory simply divides marital property down the middle. The court can also take into consideration a couple's age, earning potential and other factors, but the main requirement is that property be split between the separating couple. California is a community property state and it is important for California residents to understand how such a law can affect them in the event of divorce.

When separating from one's spouse, there are a number of issues that need to be addressed, ranging from child custody to alimony to property division. While the court system does have laws in place to make ultimate decisions on these issues, the couples can also come to their own agreements out-of-court. Thus, if a California couple desires to avoid the community property rules, they can determine together how to divide the marital property.

Getting a divorce can be a complicated process. It is important to not only have a good idea of the applicable state laws that will apply to one's separation, but also have adequate representation in order to ensure an equitable and fair result for both parties.

Source: Huffington Post, "Why Where You Divorce Matters: Equitable Distribution vs. Community Property," David Centeno, Aug. 28, 2013.

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John T. Chamberlin, Attorney at Law
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