Researched and written by: Terri Bui

In a divorce process, the court has jurisdiction to divide the property interests of the parties at the request of either party. The property is defined in one of two ways. In California, all property acquired by Wife or Husband is considered community or separate property. California specifically defines community property negatively, meaning ALL property that is not specified as separate, is considered community.

Separate property is defined as all property acquired BEFORE THE MARRIAGE, and all property acquired during the marriage that is either a gift or inheritance, produced by separate property (i.e. rent, issues, or profits), or acquired after the date of separation.

Community Property is defined as all assets acquired during the marriage until the date of separation, regardless of who acquired it. Likewise, all debt acquired by either or both parties during the marriage is characterized as community debt.

Although it sounds simple enough, how property is characterized is not always that clear. For example, after separation, if the wife decides to purchase a car, it would seem as though the new vehicle would be her separate property. But if she used funds from the sale of a vehicle that the couple purchased together during the marriage to buy this new car, there is now a community interest in her new vehicle, even though it was purchased after separation.

Dividing community assets can get extremely difficult during a divorce process, so it’s important to clearly distinguish between community and separate property to avoid confusion and conflict. If it becomes too difficult to manage with your partner, consider hiring an attorney to deal solely with the financial and property aspects of your divorce. Remember, our consultations in San Diego county are always free should you wish to seek some legal advice.