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What property is separate property in a California divorce?

When you decide to divorce in California, you face the imminent reality of asset division with your ex. Unless you have a prenuptial agreement, chances are good that you will have to litigate the division of your assets. Fighting for a fair outcome can be particularly difficult if you don't understand the way that the courts in California classify your property and debts.

Most of the assets that you acquired in your marriage are marital property. That means they belong to both spouses and are subject to division in divorce proceedings. However, some of the assets that you own are separate property. Assets you owned prior to marriage can remain separate, as can certain assets you acquire during the marriage.

What property acquired during marriage can be separate property?

One of the biggest questions people often have is whether assets they acquired during marriage are separate or marital property. Income, including employer-sponsored benefits such as a pension or a retirement matching fund, are typically marital property. Items that you purchase with income earned during a marriage are also marital property.

However, some things you obtained in marriage may remain separate property. Gifts that you received from someone other than your spouse are usually your separate property to retain in the event of a divorce. The same is true of an inheritance if you are named as the heir but your spouse is not. However, those who receive large gifts or inheritances should take care not to commingle their assets with the family's general assets and accounts.

What is commingling of assets?

People with good intentions can wind up losing a significant amount of their inheritance or other valuable assets in the event of a divorce. They may try to do what they consider to be kind and fair, such as sharing their inheritance with their spouse or giving their spouse access to those funds. Unfortunately, that could mean that their spouse has an ownership interest in that inheritance.

Depositing gift funds or inherited financial assets into a joint account results in commingled funds. In other words, what was once separate property now becomes marital property that is subject to division. If you want to protect your interest to substantial financial gifts or inherited assets, you need to retain them separately from your marital property.

Those who have substantial assets often have unique issues to deal with in divorces. From complex property division to negotiation of a parenting plan, the tasks ahead of you can be quite trying.

Working with an experienced California divorce attorney can help you make the best of a bad situation and protect your assets and financial future when it's time to move on from an unhappy marriage.

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