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Protecting your property: Separate and marital assets

When you got married, it was for better or worse. You planned to stay with your spouse for the long term, but clearly, your spouse didn't feel the same way. She recently served you with divorce documents, and now you need to do everything you can to protect yourself.

You don't have children, so your primary concern is your property. First, understand that California is a community property state. That means that when you get married, you and your spouse become a community. When you become a community, both of you own all assets equally. Debts also become community debts.

Does everything I own belong to my spouse as well?

Debts and assets owned before marriage do not count as community property except for in some special cases. For instance, if you receive an inheritance during your marriage, that is typically seen as separate property since it's willed to you specifically. However, if you place that inheritance into your jointly owned bank account, it now becomes community property. The way it looks, the court would assume you intended to share the funds with your spouse equally.

What happens if you have a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement?

If you have one of these agreements, then you need to speak with your attorney about how it affects your case. If your property division matters are already clear in a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement, you may not need to create a new arrangement.

If you don't have either of these documents and can't agree on how to separate your property, you can go to court. In that case, it's likely that the judge will look at all assets owned between you and split them equally.

Generally speaking, it's usually better to work out your property division arrangements on your own, since you may not wish to divide everything equally like California law dictates.

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