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In a dissolution of marriage, California family law courts are empowered to allocate assets of comparable value to the former husband and wife to make the overall division of the gross marital estate substantially equal.  It need not divide each asset.  For example, when dividing a business might impair its value, the court will generally preserve the ongoing business interests if the court can still make an overall equal division of the marital estate.

If you and your spouse own a home together and one spouse continues to reside in the home after separation, that spouse could owe “rent” to the community, subject to an offset for payment of the costs of the home.  If one spouse pays on community debts after separation, he or she will generally be reimbursed for those payments.  An exception might apply if the debt payments are made in lieu of support.


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In California, when dividing property during a divorce, both parties need to be aware of the fact that all debts that were incurred during the marriage are presumed to be community property.  The only debts which would normally not be considered community property are debts which are deemed completely unrelated to the community.  This might include:

  • a debt related to one person’s separate property
  • support obligations
  • gifts or expenses related to a romantic relationship other than the marriage, or
  • criminal acts which did not have financial benefit to the community.

This means that a spouse could incur a debt for a purpose the other spouse does not approve and it would still be considered a community debt.

Debts that have been incurred before the marriage remain the responsibility of the person who originally incurred them.  If community funds are used to pay these debts, sometimes there is a right of reimbursement for the community and sometimes not.  Special rules apply depending upon the type of debt and other assets/income which were available to pay it.



One of the most important aspects of all divorces is the division of community property.  To do so in a fair and reasonable manner, it is important to begin with properly valuing a community’s income, debts, assets, and expenses.

Remember, California is a community property state.  This means all property acquired by a spouse during marriage while living in California is presumed to be community property.  Upon death or divorce, the value of all community assets is divided equally in terms of value between both spouses.

Both marital partners are equal agents of the partnership, and they are able to bind the partnership if acting within the scope of his or her authority, and if acting for the joint benefit of the family.  The California community property system adds to joint ownership the right of equal management and control.

All benefits which come from either spouse’s employment during the marriage are community property to the extent they are earned and/or accrued during the marriage.  This can include:

  • retirement benefits
  • pension, savings plans
  • stock purchase plans
  • 401k plans
  • sick and vacation pay, and
  • stock options.

If the benefits are not fully vested at the time of a separation, an allocation is made between the community and separate interests.

Separate property is property:

a)      owned before marriage

b)      acquired during marriage by gift or inheritance, or

c)      acquired after separation.

Earnings, income, or appreciation from separate property sources remain separate property.  If there is a dispute about when an asset is separate property, you must have proof that you acquired the separate property in one of these ways, and have documentation to trace the separate property back to the original source.

If you use separate property to acquire property in joint names during the marriage, you are only entitled to reimbursement for the amount of the separate property contribution (no interest or appreciation) and, again, you must be able to trace the contribution back to the separate property source.

If you own a business prior to marriage, the community may acquire an interest in the business if the business increases in value during the marriage, depending upon the reason for the increase in value.  If you own a home in your own name and community funds are used for mortgage payments or to pay down the principal on a loan, the community will acquire an interest in the appreciation in the value of the property, but only in the ratio that the amount paid on principal bears to the total purchase price.  The community will also be reimbursed for the amount paid down on principal.

The way you hold title to real property will affect disposition of property upon death of a spouse.  For example, property held as joint tenants will automatically become the property of the surviving spouse.  Property held as community property or tenants in common will be distributed according to the Will or Trust of the spouse, or according to the laws governing intestate succession in the absence of a Will or Trust.


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Another star in the news, getting a divorce, and this one’s not even in the Golden State.  According to the Los Angeles Times, former football great, Neon Deion Sanders, has been cited for misdemeanor assault in connection with an altercation with his estranged wife, Pilar Sanders.

Pilar, who spent a recent night in jail, was also charged with misdemeanor assault as a result of the same incident.  Deion recently tweeted that Pilar and a friend had attacked him in front of their children at their home in Prosper, Texas, a suburb of Dallas.  He also posted a photo of his boys filling out a police report against their mother.

Last December, Deion filed for divorce, but he and his wife continued to live in separate areas of the same house.  In the months following the filing, Pilar has thrown out some ugly accusations which have led to a volatile war of words.  Pilar has referred to her soon-to-be-ex as a “cheating, narcissistic bully” who is “at the bottom of the depths of humanity.”  She has accused him of only giving her money for “sexual favors.”

Through his legal mouth-pieces, Deon has responded to these accusations as being nothing more than “extortion.”  And maybe he’s right.  Because it all seems to come down to this: Pilar has filed court documents against the former NFL star seeking $200 million in damages for the “emotional and physical abuse, mental distress, public humiliation, and financial loss” at the hands of her ex.  Who says this only happens in California.