California Community & Separate Property FAQ

What is separate property?

Separate property is each and every kind of property owned before the marriage or acquired by gift, inheritance, through a will and other forms during the marriage.

Separate property can also be obtained after separation (when the parties generally physically separate from one another with no intent to resume the marital relationship) but this depends in part on whether the property acquired after separation was acquired with separate property funds or assets or community funds or assets.

What is or is not separate property generally turns on the intent of the parties at the time of acquisition, the subsequent use of the property, how title is held to the property, the commingling of the property and numerous other factors.

Separate property, with some exceptions, belongs 100% to the spouse who acquired it.

What is community property?

Community property is simply all property acquired during the marriage while domiciled in California.  The location of the property does not matter.  There are many exceptions to this general rule so do not assume that just because property is acquired during the marriage, it is automatically community property.

Community property, with some exceptions, is generally divided equally between the spouses.

Do judges in Orange County give exclusive possession and use of the family residence to me or my souse while the divorce is pending?

Yes, but in Orange County this generally only happens if there has been domestic violence or related abuse issues between you and yours spouse, or either of you have acted in a manner that has endangered the children.  Orange County has a specific rule as it relates to domestic violence residency exclusion orders that are sought on a temporary basis.  The rule states the following:

A temporary restraining order enjoining a party from the use of the family home will not be granted unless the request is supported by a declaration or declarations by a “percipient witness” setting forth a factual basis showing immediate and serious harm. Said declaration or declarations shall state, in detail and in competent evidentiary form, the time and place of the act or acts and the exact injuries suffered by the moving party. The moving party has the burden of convincing the Court an ex parte order is an appropriate alternative to an order shortening time.

Does my name being on title (the deed) to the property matter?

Yes.  However, it is not the be-all, end-all of whether or not the property is community or separate.  The rules regarding title and both spouses being on or not on title, or even being removed from title are very complicated and need the assistance of a divorce lawyer.

I owned a property before marriage, sold it and put the money into the home we now own? Can I get that money back?

Yes, and we have to trace the money to the new home.  This is generally done by getting the records related to the sale of the prior home, tracing the money from that sale to a bank account (unless it was placed directly from one escrow to the new home purchase), and then tracing that money from the bank account to the new home purchase.

My spouse has ran up credit cards and debts right before our separation and since then, am I stuck with 1/2 of that debt?

No unless the debts were legitimate community property expenses.  A detailed evaluation of the expenses need to be made because if your spouse ran up credit cards and debts right before separation without any community purpose (for example, to pay for community expenses, etc.), then your spouse could be held 100% liable for those expenses and debts.

I have been paying the mortgage payment on the family residence from my post separation earnings while my spouse has been living in the residence. Do I get a reimbursement?

Under most circumstances, yes.

A typical scenario occurs after separation where one spouse is making payments on a community property home in which the other spouse is given the right of exclusive possession pending sale and a division of the proceeds.

The court to balance out this inequity generally awards the paying spouse credits for his or her post separation (and separate property) payments on the house and assesses charges for the market rental value of the property during this time of exclusion possession.  The purpose of these credits and charges is to balance out the inequity that may result from one spouse being able to live at the family residence after separation while the other spouse is paying for the mortgage on that residence.