Every state has its own laws about marriage and divorce, although certain concepts exist in the laws of multiple states. The concept of community property as enshrined in California state laws is something that many other states also apply to marriages and to dissolutions or divorces.

Community property is basically the idea that spouses share in one another’s assets and debts after they get married. Community property can affect an inheritance when one spouse dies as well as how the courts split up the household’s property if the marriage ends in divorce.

If you are considering a divorce, understanding community property can help you understand how the courts will probably split your assets. 

Not everything that you have is community property

Community property doesn’t mean that you own everything your spouse owns and vice versa. Instead, it means that both debts and income acquired during marriage get shared between spouses. While each spouse may have different contributions, the courts will consider the earnings and debts of both to be community property.

Assets that you had prior to marriage and even some that you acquire while married will remain your separate property. The courts usually won’t divide separate property unless you’ve given your spouse control over it, commingled it with marital assets or allowed your spouse to contribute toward an asset’s upkeep and maintenance.

Separate property could include items you owned outright prior to marriage, gifts you received and inheritances unless your spouse is also in the last will. Additionally, it’s possible for people getting married or those already married to execute a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement that specifies certain assets as separate property. People may protect real estate retirement accounts, ownership interest in a business or professional practice, and even family heirlooms in these documents.

The courts consider various elements of marriage when dividing property

Once you understand what is probably community property and what is likely separate property, you may then find yourself wondering how the courts will split your assets. The objective is usually a fair outcome.

In order to determine what is reasonable for your family circumstances, the courts will look at a variety of factors about your marriage and each spouse’s contributions to decide the best way to split assets and debts.