California is a community property state. What does that mean? For purposes of a dissolution of marriage, it means that a California family court will characterize any property, both personal and real property, as either community property, quasi-community property, or separate property. This characterization is important because it will dictate how the property is allocated among the spouses upon divorce.
All property acquired during the course of a marriage is presumed to be community property. This definition can be found in §760 of the Family Code. At divorce, all community property assets are divided equally unless an exception requires deviation from the equal division rule.
Property can also be characterized as quasi-community property. Quasi-community property is any property acquired by either spouse that would have been community property had the spouse been a domiciled of California at the time of the acquisition. This definition can be found in §125 of the Family Code. To be domiciled in a state means that a person resides in the state with an intention to stay. Thus, if a couple is pursuing a divorce in California, but has previously lived in a different state, California will apply its own community property characterization rules to property acquired before moving to California, in order to determine how it should be allocated.
For example, if a couple were living in New York and purchased a house, and subsequently moved to California, thereafter are getting divorced in California, the court in California would apply its own community property rules to the house in New York to determine how it should be allocated. Thus, it is not community property because it was not acquired while the couple was living in California, but it is treated as quasi-community property, which receives the same treatment by the court as community property.
All property acquired before the marriage or after the date of separation is presumed to be separate property. Additionally, any property acquired by gift, devise or bequest is presumed to be separate property. At divorce, separate property is an exception to the community property rule that requires equal division in kind, and separate property is awarded to the spouse to whom it belongs.
At Flicker, Kerin, Kruger & Bissada LLP our attorneys have substantial experience with California community property and separate property rules.