Community Property Rights


Equal ownership of community property assets has never been dependent upon a determination of labor or talent. Men and women are considered equal partners in a marriage in California. Each shares marital property equally regardless of whether their assets were earned by one or the other. For example, if the wife is a highly paid accountant and the husband is a school teacher, the differential in actual earnings is irrelevant to the ownership rights of each. Marriage extends to all of the property earned by either partner during the marriage. If a husband earns $75,000 a year and the wife’s role is that of a homemaker, whether she has the primary responsibility of raising the couple’s children is irrelevant. She has a continuing half ownership of the marital earnings from the beginning of the marriage and from the time of acquisition of property attained during the marriage.


Both marital partners are an equal agent of the partnership, binding it if acting within the scope of his or her authority and if acting for the joint benefit of the family. The California community property system adds to joint ownership the right of equal management and control.


In dissolution of a marriage, the court is empowered to allocate assets of comparable value to the former husband and wife to make the overall division of the gross marital estate substantially equal. It need not divide each asset. For example, when dividing a business might impair its value, the court will generally preserve the ongoing business interests if the court can still make an overall equal division of the marital estate.


The theory behind the division of property is that a dissolution of marriage should be treated much like the dissolution of a business partnership. Regardless of the conduct during the existence of the partnership, on dissolution the partners receive a portion of the assets commensurate with their respective partnership interests. The trial court may divide the community property, where warranted, by methods such as awarding an asset to one spouse conditioned upon later payments or making offsetting awards of the community assets. Even when this occurs, the spouses must receive property of an approximate equal value.

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