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What is 'separate property'?

If you get divorced you will have to divide up your marital assets. Community property division laws in California dictate that marital assets will be divided evenly between spouses.

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However, there can be considerable confusion regarding which assets belong to the community and which assets belong to an individual. Assets belonging to the community are called community property. Assets belonging to an individual spouse are called separate property. Anything that is determined to be separate property will generally be awarded to the individual who owns it.

However, for many people, this distinction is more difficult to make than they anticipate. Issues with comingled funds, definition of gifts, and timing of purchases can complicate matters and you and your ex can find yourselves arguing about who owns what.

For example, people can disagree with who owns:

  • Jewelry, including an engagement ring
  • Property purchased with money from an inheritance
  • Business income
  • Homes owned by one person before marriage but supported with community money
  • Credit card balances
  • Student loans and other debts
  • Pensions
  • Earnings from investments

In order to make decisions about these and other assets, it can be necessary to examine bank records and statements, receipts, date of separation, business valuations, and other relevant information.

In situations when there are questions about what is and is not considered separate property, you may be able to work toward a resolution through mediation. If this is not possible, which is not uncommon, the distinction will be made by the courts.

Thankfully, you do not have to try and sort this all out on your own. A family law attorney who understands property division laws in California can provide critical insight, guidance, and support that can make this difficult process easier to understand and more manageable.

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