California is a community property state, but that begs the question, what is considered community property in a divorce? The California Family Code defines community property as: “Except as otherwise provide by statute, all property, whether real or personal, wherever situated, acquired by a married person during the marriage while domiciled in this state is community property.” Ok, but what does that mean, and what are the exceptions?
Here’s an easy way to think about community property: From the day you say, “I do,” every dollar you earn is 50% your dollar and 50% your spouse’s dollar. So, the next time your spouse says “thank you” when you pay the bill at a restaurant, they are really paying half of the bill themselves. And yes, they also paid for one-half of that anniversary gift you bought them. Except in most, but not all cases, once they receive the gift it becomes their sole and separate property. By now you see that the law isn’t very romantic to say the least.
Think of it this way: Anything you brought into the marriage or that you receive by gift or inheritance. The law regarding disability insurance, worker’s compensation, and personal injury awards is more complicated. This is why you should always consult with an experienced family law attorney before you assume something is your separate property. Sometimes, you can receive separate property and turn it into community property.
The best example is when a person receives a monetary inheritance and deposits that money into a joint bank account. That money doesn’t automatically become community property, but the longer it stays in the joint bank account the more chance it becomes commingled with community property to the extent that the separate property is effectively gone. Think of it as a drop of ink falling into a bucket of water and dispersing. It is often prudent to keep inheritance money separate because you may want to do things with that money, which is your separate property.
If you have questions concerning what is community or separate property, consulting with an experienced family law attorney can help you understand the status of property and even help you avoid potentially expensive mistakes. In the case of an inheritance, it may be prudent to consult with an experienced family law attorney, it doesn’t necessarily mean you want a divorce, and it may even prevent a misunderstanding that can damage or even end a marriage. Contact The Reape-Rickett Law Firm at 888-581-1611 to speak with an experienced family law attorney serving Los Angeles, Ventura County and beyond.