California is known as a community property state. For separating couples, this means that any property the couple acquired during their marriage must be split 50-50. In addition, any debts the couple acquired must split equally.
There are a number of things that are considered property. Examples include:
- Bank accounts
- Life insurance
There are some exceptions to community property. For examples, if you receive an inheritance during your marriage, but the money was kept separate from the marital bank account or was not used to purchase something together, such as a house, then that property is considered separate property. If you purchased a car that was yours alone from the inheritance, then that car is considered separate property.
In some cases, you may have commingled property. This is property that is both community property and separate property and has been mixed together. A good example of this is a spouse's pension. Perhaps your spouse had a pension he or she was paying into before and after your marriage. The amount he paid in before your marriage is separate property. The amount after your marriage and until your divorce is community property. There are specific ways that pensions and retirement accounts must be split in order for you to get your fair share. Don't assume and agree to just any amount.
As you can see, dividing property in a divorce or separation can be very complicated. It is best to seek out experienced legal advice. If not, you could agree to a divorce settlement that is not in your best interests.