Tours Travel

General Property Issues Related to Divorce and Family Law in California.

community property

California is a community property state. All property that is purchased or acquired during the marriage, or is transmuted (converted) into community property during the marriage is community property.

The husband and wife in a marriage each own an undivided share of one-half of all community property of the marriage.

Community property is not divided, unless a divorce proceeding is initiated or by the death of the husband or wife.

Community property can be real estate or personal property. Community assets can also be businesses, pension plans, or any other type of tangible thing that is acquired during the marriage.

Community property is normally one of the main issues involved in divorce actions.

Quasi-Community Ownership

Quasi-community property is property that was acquired outside of the state of California during the marriage. Although married couples may have purchased property in a state that is not a community property state such as California, the property will essentially be treated as if it were community property for purposes of division in a divorce action in the state of California.


Businesses started during a marriage are community property.

In some cases, a person may have owned an existing business before marriage and continue the business after marriage. In a divorce action, the courts will assign a percentage of the value to the business “after the marriage” to determine how much of the business is community property.

If you owned an existing business before the marriage, it is extremely important that you consult with a lawyer in a divorce action as soon as possible.


Any portion of Pensions, IRAs, 401(k’s), retirement plans, etc., that were contributed during the marriage are community property.

Generally, pension plan funds cannot be obtained until the pension plan vests and expires. Therefore, special court orders are needed for each party to get their share of any retirement plan after it matures and vests. These orders are typically called qualified domestic relations orders, or QDROs for short.

Obviously, the parties to a divorce have a vested interest in making sure they get their fair share of any alimony or retirement plan after the divorce.

Community income, bank accounts, stocks and investments

All income earned during a marriage is considered community income. This is true even if one party to a marriage makes money in a business that was theirs before the marriage. Community income is the same as community property, in that each party owns one-half of an undivided interest in the community income.

Each party to the marriage has the right to spend and use the income from the community, even if they are not the one who earned the money. However, after legal separation or the initiation of divorce proceedings, the parties may only use the community property for the necessities of life and to pay their lawyer.

Likewise, bank accounts, shares and/or investments that are acquired during the marriage are also community assets. This is true even if the bank account, shares and/or investment are solely in the name of one of the parties.

Some parties try to hide money in separate bank accounts during the marriage and/or hide assets that were acquired during the marriage from the other party.

If you are a party to a divorce action, you have what is called a fiduciary duty of disclosure. What this means is that you must disclose all assets, bank accounts, and other investments that were acquired during the marriage to the other party. If you do not fully disclose your assets and/or income to the court and to the other party, the court could severely punish you.

You may have read about the case where a wife won the lottery and then filed divorce proceedings against her husband. She did not inform the court or her husband about the fact that she won the lottery. As punishment for not disclosing the fact that she won the lottery, the court awarded her husband the full amount of the lottery winnings.

Separate Property

Separate property is all property that was acquired before the marriage; during marriage by motto, testament or inheritance; and after legal separation. Proceeds from a personal injury judgment or settlement are also separate property, even if received during the marriage.

Once the court determines that the property is separate property, the person who owns the separate property will leave the couple with their separate property.

Separate property can be transmuted (converted) to community property by intent or inadvertence. For example, a party may have a separate bank account prior to the marriage that would be considered separate property. If the party then takes the income earned during the marriage and deposits that money into their separate bank account, they may have inadvertently turned that bank account into community property.

Obviously, the parties in a divorce proceeding will likely want to keep their own assets separate after the divorce is final. It is very important that you contact an attorney regarding the issue of separation of property to ensure that you can keep separate property from her after the divorce.

If you are considering filing for divorce or are currently involved in divorce proceedings, you can call our law firm for a free consultation at 818-739-1544 ext. 10, or visit our family law website at

By Norman Gregory Fernández, Lic., © 2006

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *