Marriage means sharing a life with a spouse, which typically means sharing financial resources and income. Under the community property laws in California, spouses generally share income and property with one another unless they sign a written contract imposing certain limits on that expectation.
Most couples do not have a prenuptial agreement, which means that they will have to discuss dividing their property if they decide to divorce. Many people misunderstand what community property division requires, as every divorce case is different and misinformation abounds. However, there are generally only two paths possible for those who need to divide their property as part of a divorce in California.
Couples who have already signed a prenuptial agreement have a written contract explaining how they will divide their property. They can very easily file an uncontested divorce where their contract determines how they divide their property. Those without a pre-existing agreement can potentially negotiate terms after they decide to file for divorce. Some couples attend mediation, while others negotiate through their lawyers to reach a mutual settlement. As long as both parties agree on the terms for property division, spouses can control the process themselves and move forward with an uncontested divorce.
When couples disagree about how to divide their property or even what property is subject to division, they may need the support of a family law judge. During divorce litigation, spouses must disclose their personal property to one another in the courts. A judge will then review the assets and debts the couple acquired during the marriage to decide what would be an appropriate way to divide their property in the divorce. Couples generally have very little control over what a judge decides to do with their property. Litigation will typically cost more and take longer to resolve, but for some spouses, it may be the only reasonable way to resolve disagreements about the division of their property when they divorce.
Learning more about what to expect during the divorce process can help those who are trying to plan their path forward as they contemplate the end of their marriages. Seeking legal guidance is generally a good starting point.