California is a special state, because it, among few others, recognizes community property. While most states now understand that equitably splitting assets is a good way to do things, California relies on a method similar to that used in Mexico and other nations south of our border. Community property states split assets 50-50 instead of splitting them equitably.

For someone who has put much time, money and effort into a relationship, a 50-50 split may not always feel fair. Fortunately, some items you own are still protected against division, helping you keep more than your spouse if you invested more into the relationship.

What is community property?

The first thing to know is what community property entails. Community property is any property acquired during your marriage. If you were married only a few months and have nothing you purchased together, there’s little to lose. On the other hand, those married for years likely have property or larger assets that they’ve purchased during the marriage. Even if they’re in separate names, the purchase date is what matters.

Here’s an example. In an equitable distribution state, you purchase a car in your name. That car remains in your name after divorce. In a community property state, the car, although it’s in your name, is community property, since you bought it during your marriage.

Community property may include things such as wages you or your spouse earned during your marriage, interest earned on your business or business investments, the family home, and homes or furniture purchased with earnings made during your marriage.

What’s separate property?

Now that you know what comprises marital property, it’s easy to begin dividing the separate property. Separate property includes inheritances acquired during your marriage as long as you keep the inheritance separate, gifts to you or your spouse, personal injury proceeds, bank accounts in separate names and any property you obtain after the dissolution of your marriage.

How does a judge determine who receives what property?

First, a judge has to look at several factors including age differences, the size of your estate, any anticipated inheritances, a disparity in your earning capacities and marital fault. Other factors also apply, like your health and where your children live or who has custody of your children following a divorce.

If your case goes to court, the judge can decide to separate all marital property 50-50, but the above factors could necessitate a less-even split, depending on the circumstances.

It’s in your best interests to think about what you owned before your marriage and to keep your assets separated throughout. Your attorney can help you review your assets and determine if there are ways to keep certain pieces of property for yourself.