San Francisco Property Division Attorney
Acquiring property (and debt) together starts as soon as the couple says “I do” and opens their wedding presents, and it lasts until the date of separation. During that time, any money earned by either party is community property, with each spouse entitled to one-half when the marriage dissolves. Deciding who keeps what after a divorce, from artwork to stocks to the family pet, and deciding who pays the mortgage, credit cards and other debt, can be one of the most complex and contentious aspects of the divorce to work out. Cardwell Steigerwald Young LLP can help. We work as a team on every case, along with forensic accountants and other experts as needed, bringing together the talents of Super Lawyers and a Board-Certified Family Law Specialist with over 50 years of combined experience dealing with low-asset and high-asset divorces in the San Francisco Bay Area. You can count on our firm for top-tier advice and representation when it comes to dividing the marital property in your divorce. Call our San Francisco property division attorneys today.
Characterization of Marital and Separate Property
The general rule in California is that all property acquired by a married person during the marriage is community property. This is important because California law gives each spouse a one-half interest in all community property and debt, regardless of who earned it or acquired it. The property division in a California divorce gives each party one-half of the community property, plus each spouse keeps their separate property. A person’s separate property includes:
- All property owned by the person before marriage
- All property acquired by the person during the marriage through gift or inheritance
- Rents and profits obtained from separate property
- Earnings and accumulations acquired after the date of separation
California also recognizes a concept it calls transmutation: community property can become separate property, separate property can become community property, and one spouse’s separate property can become the other spouse’s separate property. It all depends on how the property is treated and the intent of the parties. Consider, for instance, community property that was purchased with separate funds, separate property that was improved with marital funds, or property purchased with contributions from each party’s separate funds. Expert legal assistance is often needed to properly characterize community property.
Separate property can also lose its character when it gets commingled with marital property, such as through buying joint property or putting the money in a joint bank account. Tracing funds with the help of a forensic accounting expert might be necessary to recover those separate funds if possible and desired.
Since community property is divided in half during divorce, making sure every asset and debt is properly characterized as marital or separate is essential to a fair and accurate division of community property. At CSY Family Law Group, our experienced team provides the advice and assistance necessary to represent your interests in this critical stage.
Property Valuation Issues
Valuation is every bit as important as the asset’s characterization when it comes to dividing community property. Even though each spouse owns a half interest in every community asset, it’s not always possible to divide every asset in half, nor is it always desirable to sell off every asset so the proceeds can be divided. It is often more practical or desired to consider the value of the marital estate as a whole so that assets and debts can be traded in kind for a result that is fair and approximates a fifty-fifty split of the community property. In order for this idea to work, however, every asset and debt must be accurately and appropriately valued.
At CSY Family Law Group, we work with valuation professionals and use our combined years of experience to aid in valuing complex and valuable assets that may be partly or wholly community property, including 401K and profit-sharing plans, an equity stake in a tech startup, the value of a home purchased with a mix of community and separate funds from one or both parties, or the present value of a business that was built before the marriage and operated during the marriage.
Negotiating or Litigating Property Settlement Agreements
Many couples go into a divorce with the property division already decided in a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement. This agreement might not cover all aspects of the community property, but it might go a long way toward delineating each party’s rights in certain marital and separate property. However, these agreements might be challenged as void or unenforceable if the parties didn’t follow the many laws and rules regarding the validity and enforceability of a premarital or postmarital agreement in California.
The parties are also able (and encouraged) to decide between themselves how to divide their property. The parties can draw up their own marital settlement agreement and submit it to the court, rather than having the judge decide how to divide the property. The judge will review the agreement and must believe it’s fair before approving it. Our deep experience in complex property division can prove valuable in knowing what the courts will accept as fair; we can assist you in negotiating a settlement and keeping your case out of litigation. If an agreement can’t be reached, we’ll provide skilled and knowledgeable representation in court that protects your rights and promotes your interests in the property division.
Contact Cardwell Steigerwald Young LLP Today
Our family law attorneys can ably represent you in every aspect of your California divorce, including high-asset and complex property issues. Contact our Bay Area property division attorneys today.