There are three types of property classifications in California law: community
property, separate property, and quasi-community property. It is important
to know the differences between them, because the definition of a property
determines who has ownership and control of the property. The definition
will also determine how the property is distributed to the spouses in
the event of divorce.
California law describes community property as any asset acquired or income
earned by a married person during the marriage. An asset can be a future
(or current) pension plan, real estate, personal property, intellectual
property (such as royalties from a book written during the marriage),
salary, sick leave hours, and earned vacation time from employment or
even businesses created during the marriage.
Community property does not include gifts received during the marriage,
inheritances, property acquired before the marriage, or property acquired
after the marriage ended.
Separate property, as defined by California law, is property acquired before
the marriage or after the parties to a marriage separate. Again, it can
be the same type of property as community property, but not acquired during
the marriage. It also includes gifts and inheritances.
The third classification of property in California known is "quasi-community
property." This type of property usually consists of property acquired
or owned in another state or country, but acquired during the marriage.
California law treats quasi-community property the same as it treats community property.
In the event of divorce, determining the type of property can be difficult.
Has separate property been used to purchase community property or vice
versa? What about businesses owned before the marriage but where community
assets have been provided to them? Do employee pension plans that were
separate property of the employee before marriage suddenly become community
property after the marriage because the employee continues to contribute
a portion of his/her salary to the plan?
There are many issues that arise in classifying property and property rights
in California. Those issues are often very complex. They are best handled
by a qualified family law attorney to ensure that a spouse receives his
or her fair interest in that property.