Under California law, any property jointly owned by a married couple is presumed to be community property, unless someone can prove that it is separate property. Community property can include real estate, bank accounts, artwork, debts and other assets. It can also include debts. Separate property is property that one of the partners owns on his or her own and that has not been converted into community property during the marriage.
A typical example of separate property might be an inheritance from a relative who named just one of the spouses as the beneficiary. Separate property stays separate after a divorce.
Community property is split between the ex-spouses. This does not necessarily mean that it is divided 50-50, however. The law calls for community property to be divided equitably.
It is important to note that equitable and equal do not mean the same thing. If, for example, one of the divorcing partners earns significantly more money that the other and will have a smoother financial transition into a single lifestyle, the court may decide it is equitable for the other partner to receive a greater share of the community property. Courts in California strive to create property division orders that are equitable to the parties.
In the end, a court will often consider fairness when dividing the community property of a divorcing couple. Individuals may always advocate for their rights to certain parcels of property during the property division process, and with the help of family law attorneys many California residents are able to emerge from their divorces with property division settlements and orders that sufficient to meet their needs as well as equitable.