California Community Property Laws

During the divorce process, property is divided according to its status as "marital property" -- that which was acquired after the marriage and is thus shared -- or personal property that is not subject to division. The concept of community property is rooted in Spanish law and is now widespread. California community property laws are unique when compared to laws in other states, primarily because the Golden State recognizes all marital property as subject to equal division. 

Most states divide marital property through the more complex process of "equitable distribution," which considers a number of factors, including the length of the marriage and income of each spouse. But in California, marital property is divided (after a divorce) in accordance with the legal theory of "community property."

Community property laws mandate that everything a married couple owns together is subject to a 50/50 split upon divorce. It's a broad category that includes the following:

  1. All income received by either spouse during the course of the marriage (salary, interest income, stock dividends, capital gains, retirement accounts, etc.)
  2. All property (real estate and personal property) acquired during the course of the marriage using income earned during the marriage
  3. All debts incurred during the course of the marriage

In California and other community property states, it doesn't matter who earned the most income or purchased the most property -- everything is subject to equal division. However, parties may decide on a different distribution plan if it is an uncontested divorce. Property that stays separate includes anything owned prior to the marriage, acquired after a legal separation, or received as an inheritance or gift (provided it stays separate and doesn't end up in a joint account).

The following table provides a few basics of California's community property laws. See Community Property Overview and Divorce Property Division FAQ to learn more.

Community Property Recognized? Yes (Fam. C. §751 §770)
Dower And Curtesy No estate by dower or curtesy (Prob. C. §6412)

Note: State laws are constantly changing -- contact an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.

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