Under California’s community property laws, assets and debts spouses acquire during marriage belong equally to both of them, and they must divide them equally in divorce and each spouse keeps his or her separate property. California law defines community property as any asset acquired during marriage. Separate property is defined as anything acquired by a spouse before the marriage, during the marriage by gift, devise, or bequest, and after the parties separate.
In some circumstances parties acquire quasi-community property, property acquired by a married person or couple in a non-community property state that would have been community property if it had been acquired in a community property state. It is important to keep in mind that title, by itself, does not necessarily control whether an asset is community or separate property.
During divorce couples must decide how to divide their property or ask a court to do it for them. Courts generally prefer that spouses come to an agreement regarding asset division. Ultimately, the Court makes the final call as to whether the Court will sign the stipulated judgment or marital settlement agreement.
When dividing community property interest in a defined retirement benefit plan, Courts most often uses the “Time Rule” or “Brown Formula”. A percentage is determined based on the ratio between the time that a member spouse was enrolled in a defined benefit plan during the marriage and the total time that the person was enrolled in the plan.
An asset such as real property does not have to be sold if the parties do not agree on its division. Courts have discretion on how to divide assets and if an agreement cannot be reached courts often order a buyout of an asset or offset one asset in whole or in part with another.
Debts are divided much the same way as assets at divorce – equally. A community debt is typically debt incurred by either spouse during the marriage. A debt that was incurred before marriage or after separation is typically the separate property of one spouse and is assigned to that spouse. After legal separation or divorce, a debt is generally owed only by the spouse who incurred the debt, unless the debt was incurred for family necessities, or to maintain jointly owned assets.