The community property laws in California require family law judges to divide marital assets equally even if the couple involved have only been married for a short time or come from very different economic backgrounds. This is one of the reasons that prenuptial agreements are so popular there, and worries about the outcome of costly and public litigation may prompt affluent California couples to make every effort to reach an amicable settlement during property division negotiations.
Going to court can be especially risky for divorcing couples when significant assets are involved, and spouses with high incomes may offer to pay substantial alimony in return for concessions during property division talks. These negotiations generally focus on tangible items like real estate, jewelry and artwork, but assets like retirement plans, investment portfolios and stock options can be just as valuable and should not be overlooked.
The retirements of divorced women will generally last longer than those of their former husbands, and it may be prudent for them to give up marital assets that are likely to depreciate in value in return for a higher share of any joint or work-related retirement accounts. Employment-based retirement plans can be particularly thorny during divorce negotiations, and a qualified domestic relations order may be necessary to ensure that the plan administrator follows the terms of the property settlement when assigning benefits.
Experienced family law attorneys who have experience with divorces involving significant assets may urge their wealthy clients to enter into prenuptial or postnuptial agreements. These documents often include lists of assets that are considered separate property as well as establishing how marital assets should be divided in a divorce. While marital assets may be allocated as the parties involved see fit, these agreements should be essentially fair if they are to withstand legal challenge and judicial scrutiny.