Divorce comes with so many worries about life and the future. Among your emotional turmoil and worries about the kids, there are also concerns about your property. We’ve all heard horror stories about people “losing everything.”
Some of these urban legends are a bit far-fetched, but they reflect some very real concerns. What, exactly will you lose when the divorce settles? What will you gain?
Fortunately, a California divorce is unlikely to leave you destitute. Unfortunately, you will probably be asked to sacrifice something you value.
California and Community Property Division
Despite its reputation as one of the most progressive states, California still uses a traditional, conservative property division model in a divorce. It goes by the "community property division” model, which is focused on marital assets.
Marital assets are, essentially, any property either party purchased during the marriage. Whether it’s a beloved coffee mug or an expensive piece of real estate, it belongs to both spouses. When California courts divide assets, their goal is to give each spouse 50% of the total marital property. This includes tangible property, savings, debt, and so on.
Achieving an equal split has an inherent flaw. What do you do about physical property? You can’t split a home in half and give each person a slice. We aren’t living in King Solomon’s time.
To achieve an equal split of physical property, courts may rule for some form of trade. In the case of the house, one partner may be allowed to keep it, but they must pay the other half its value. Sometimes they must give up physical property that reaches half the value of the home. To bypass all this mess, the court may simply ask the couple to sell the home and split the earnings.
Community property division is the reason you may be forced to sacrifice some property. If there is something you cannot live without, something you fight for tooth and nail, you may be able to keep it. However, be ready to give up something else in return.
Arguing for Your Property
Let’s continue to use the home as an example. Say you want to keep it, and you need to craft a reasonable argument. The best way to do this is to prove your entitlement to the property. Show the court that you were the main user of or contributor to the home.
You can do this in several different ways. If, for instance, you were a stay-at-home parent during the marriage, you may have a strong argument for entitlement to the home. You can show the court that you were mainly responsible for the upkeep and management of the home. You have a strong argument that both you and the children used the property most often, and you should be allowed to remain there. Perhaps you even oversaw repairs, additions, and remodels
Just remember, even when your arguments allow you to keep the home, you will probably be expected to pay for half of it or give up something else to keep it.
Are There Ways to Get More Than Half the Property?
The short answer is, yes. If your spouse is guilty of certain bad behaviors, you can officially accuse them in court.
First, they could be guilty of wasteful dissipation. Knowing that they’ll be forced to share half the marital assets, they may start intentionally depleting them. They start spending vast amounts of money, simply to keep you from getting any. This could be an act of pure spite, or it could be even more sinister. They may find an accomplice and start hiding money away in another account, planning to retrieve it later.
Wasteful dissipation can happen during the marriage, too, but it’s harder to prove. If your spouse foolishly squandered money on gambling, an affair, or a substance abuse problem, and they hid this spending from you, this could be a form of wasteful dissipation.
Evidence of abuse can also tilt property division. If you can prove that you lived under these horrible conditions, you may be able to walk away with more of the marital assets.
When it comes to accusations of wasteful dissipation or abuse, a divorce court can act like a civil court. Civil court, where plaintiffs file lawsuits against defendants, compensates people financially. Someone was wronged, and they receive money for their troubles. If you’ve been the victim of either offense, the court may grant you more property as punishment against your spouse.
Using Spousal Support to Balance the Scales
In a divorce, financial matters don’t stop at property division. If you’re concerned about staying afloat after a divorce, don’t forget that spousal support is also part of the court’s overall ruling.
Certainly, spousal support is not about the direct property present in a marriage. It is also not a get-rich-quick scheme. It’s about need, not greed. As a system, it is designed to keep one partner from becoming destitute after the marriage ends. It’s based on the needs of both parties, considering how much the supported spouse needs to survive and what the supporter can give.
The point is this: even if property division leaves a lot to be desired, you should be able to manage after your divorce. At its best, spousal support can keep you fed and healthy until you can support yourself.
If you have concerns about your finances and property after divorce, contact our office for a free consultation. You can call us at (310) 817-6904 or fill out our online contact form.