California is a community property state. That means all property accumulated by a husband and wife during their marriage becomes joint property even if it was originally acquired in the name of only one partner. During your divorce, you will be given an opportunity to reach a divorce settlement. Should you be unable to reach a divorce settlement, one will be imposed upon you by the court. Keep in mind that a little compromise may go a long way. Haggling over a picture, painting or gift seemingly important to you both can be costly and can throw the decision to a judge who will not have an emotional involvement. Do what you can to reach a divorce settlement. If you cannot, the family court will divide the community property of the parties equally.
California family law has determined that all property acquired during the duration of the marriage is to be considered marital property. However, any gifts or inheritances given to a specific spouse during the course of the marriage will be excluded from this classification and will be considered non-marital property. By this definition, any property that was acquired before the marriage would also be exempt, unless the property was transmuted during the marriage. All non-marital assets are excluded from any court-led division of property under California code.
Property settlements, in the form of settlement agreements, are written contracts outlining the terms of property division, general rights, and other decisions associated with the dissolution of the marriage. If the agreement was merged and incorporated in the decree, or court decision, the agreement will essentially become a court order and be enforceable by law. A couple may also request that the agreement simply be merged, but not incorporated into the decree; this would make the agreement a simple contract between the two spouses which leaves room for later modifications.
California family courts generally abide by the divisions of property outlined in the property settlement agreement. The court reviews the document in order to verify that it is a fair agreement in which neither party was forced or coerced during its creation.
Once accepted by the courts, the property settlement agreement becomes a legal document that is legally binding for the duration of time set forth in the document. This generally means that it is binding indefinitely. However, changes and amendments to the document are admitted when both parties agree to the changes.
Rossana Mitchell, Esq., Law Offices of Rossana Mitchell
Divorce and Distribution of Property