In California, if you choose to divorce, you’ll need to make a number of hard choices. Who will get the house? Who will have custody of the kids? For many divorcing spouses, the hardest choices are about dividing and distributing the marital assets, property, and debts.

What should you know about property division in a California divorce, and how should you prepare for the process? If you’ll keep reading, you’ll find some important recommendations and details about dividing the property in a California divorce and whether or not you will need a Long Beach divorce attorney.

HOW DOES A DIVORCE BEGIN IN CALIFORNIA?

To file for divorce in this state, no married person is required to show that his or her spouse is in any way “at fault.” Either partner may request a divorce simply on the basis of “irreconcilable differences.”

Under California law, before you can file for a divorce, at least one spouse must be a resident in the state for at least six months and a resident in the county where the divorce papers are filed for at least three months.

A divorce in California can sometimes be finalized within six months, but if one spouse remains resolutely uncooperative, the process could take a year or longer.

WHAT PROPERTY IS MARITAL PROPERTY?

Property acquired by one or both spouses during the marriage is typically categorized as marital property, and exceptions are rare. Non-marital property is property personally owned before a marriage by the individual spouses, and in a divorce, it remains their individual property.

WHAT HAPPENS IN “COMMUNITY PROPERTY” STATES?

California is a “community property” state, so if divorcing spouses cannot agree regarding the division of property, the court will divide the property “fifty-fifty.” It’s always better for divorcing spouses to arrive at their own agreement rather than letting a court make the choices.

Agreements about property division, alimony, and children can save a divorcing couple a great deal of money, time, and unneeded aggravation. Courtroom battles over these matters can be lengthy and expensive.

Liquidating marital property usually isn’t required, but the law in California does require divorcing spouses to receive assets of “equal value” when the court decides how to divide the assets and properties.

WHAT CAN HAPPEN IF A SPOUSE HIDES ASSETS?

It may not sound difficult, but deciding what is marital property and deciding what is personal property can rapidly become complicated, especially if a couple’s properties and assets are extensive.

When a spouse attempts to hide assets, the right divorce attorney can usually uncover the assets. However, divorcing spouses should know that investigations of hidden assets increase the costs and delay the process.

HOW DOES THE PROPERTY AND ASSET DIVISION BEGIN?

Before a court divides marital property, the divorcing spouses must complete a disclosure declaration that lists all marital and personal property acquired during the marriage. Spouses must declare their assets, debts, incomes, and expenses.

The spouse who is seeking a divorce must file a disclosure form at the time he or she files divorce papers or in the next sixty days. The other spouse must file a disclosure form along with his or her response to the divorce filing or within the next sixty days after making the response.

It’s a violation of California law for a divorcing partner to fail to disclose completely any properties or assets. Everything that has value has to be disclosed.

DIVORCE COURTS TAKE FINANCIAL DISCLOSURES SERIOUSLY

Failing to disclose any assets, properties, income, or debts exposes a divorcing spouse to court sanctions and other legal consequences.

Disclosures by the spouses facilitate the dividing of properties and assets by giving the court an accurate look at each spouse’s financial situation. In southern California, you should ask a Long Beach divorce attorney to help you with the financial disclosure forms.

When you divorce, if you own a business, you must protect it. If the business was launched while you were married, your attorney may still be able to persuade the court that your business is personal rather than marital property.

WHAT ABOUT REAL ESTATE THAT IS JOINTLY OWNED?

Real estate can make California divorces complicated. Because the value of real estate fluctuates, disputes over the value of a property are common. Decisions also must be made about liquidating properties or allowing one partner to retain a property and compensate the other partner.

When a couple or a court decides that the couple’s home or another property must be liquidated, the divorcing spouses will have to select a real estate agent and settle on a selling price.

Real estate disputes frequently delay divorce proceedings in California. A rightful division of properties can be exceedingly complicated, but real estate isn’t the only property that can complicate divorce. A business – or the family pet – could be at the center of a property quarrel.

WHAT IS YOUR DIVORCE ATTORNEY’S ROLE?

When you divorce in California, you’ll need a lawyer who can see to it that every asset and property is accurately characterized as marital or personal property and is then accurately valued. Your lawyer should protect your interests from the start to the finish of a California divorce.

In southern California, you’ll want to work with a Long Beach divorce attorney who has substantial experience in the division of assets, properties, and debts.

WHAT PART DO PRENUPTIAL AGREEMENTS PLAY IN DIVORCE?

In most divorces, if there is a prenuptial agreement (or a postnuptial agreement), it will determine how the marital assets and properties are to be divided. If a “prenup” is contested by one of the spouses in a divorce, the court may want answers to these questions:

  1. Was fraud or duress involved when the document was signed?
  2. Were assets and properties fully disclosed before the document was signed?
  3. Do any of the agreement’s terms conflict with California law?

California courts will enforce a prenuptial agreement signed in this state after 2002 if the partners had:

  1. full details about one another’s assets and properties when the document was signed
  2. seven full days to review and consider the agreement
  3. different attorneys, unless one of the partners expressly waived that right

Some property simply cannot be divided – the family pet, for example. But when the divorcing spouses are able to compromise somewhat, the divorce proceeding will be quicker, simpler, and less expensive.

WHAT SHOULD YOU DECIDE BEFORE A DIVORCE?

Before divorce proceedings begin, decide what assets and properties are important to you, and decide what you will be able to do without. Making these choices ahead of time can expedite the property division procedure and make the divorce experience a bit less overwhelming.

Honest communication between divorcing partners makes a divorce quicker, less stressful, and less expensive. The failure to disclose, the hiding of assets, or any other act of deception will only serve to make a divorce longer and more costly.

Although it’s an important part of the process, asset and property division is only one aspect of divorce. Divorce is always difficult. Before yours begins, make certain that you have the right attorney and the legal guidance that you’ll need. That’s your right.

Read one of our recent blogs here: ALIMONY AFTER A DIVORCE (WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW)