There are three basic types of property in California Law: separate property, community property, and quasi-community property. Determining the type of property will determine the rights and responsibilities each spouse has regarding that property.
Separate property: Consists of any property and/or assets (such as stocks, bonds, retirement accounts, etc.) acquired prior to marriage, or after marriage in the form of individual gifts (even between spouses) or inheritances.
Community property: Consists of any property acquired by the spouses during their marriage. It also includes the earnings of spouses during their marriage, any savings accounts or deposits to accounts made during their marriage, and/or any retirement accounts acquired during the marriage. Further, if funds acquired during the marriage were used in furtherance of a separate account, the “community”, or married couple can obtain an interest in that separate property. (For example, one spouse has a retirement account from his/her employment that began before marriage, once married, since his/her earnings are now community property, any of those earnings applied to that retirement account after marriage would now be applied with community funds; thus, providing the married couple with a community property interest.)
Quasi-community property: Consists of property acquired by either one or both of the spouses when living in another state that would be considered community property if that property had been acquired while they were living in California. If the property is determined to be quasi-community property, under California law, the property will be treated the same as any other community property asset.
It is very important to determine the type of property to understand what each spouse’s rights and responsibilities are during the marriage and also to determine whether a spouse has an interest in that property during divorce proceedings.
If the property is determined to be the separate property of one spouse, than that spouse has sole rights and responsibilities during the marriage to the other spouse, and he/she also retains all rights and responsibilities to the property after the marriage ends.
If the property is determined to be community property or quasi-community property, then each spouse and/or both spouses have equal access to the property during the marriage, and the property will be divided equally between them after marriage. (Obviously, most property cannot be literally divided, so objects can be sold and the proceeds from the sale be split evenly, or spouses can each take other community property assets of similar value to balance the equal division of property.)