Skillful Financial Negotiators

Thousand Oaks divorce lawyer explains property and debt division

Before a California divorce, legal separation, or domestic partnership dissolution can be finalized, the property and debt of the parties must be divided between them. California law regarding property and debt division is complicated. If you and your spouse or partner own a home or other real estate, a pension, investments, or have significant debt, you are well advised to get help from a skilled Thousand Oaks divorce lawyer to make sure your rights are protected.

In many cases, the parties are able to reach an agreement through negotiation or mediation, but when they cannot, a hearing before a judge is necessary and the judge will decide. Even when the parties agree, the court must approve the agreement.

It is important for you to understand the basics about the laws that govern property and debt division in California, which are described below, before you attempt to work out a property division.

One caution: if you and your spouse or partner signed a prenuptial or post-nuptial agreement, the rules described below may not apply to your property division. Bring a copy of the agreement when you see your Thousand Oaks divorce lawyer for an initial consultation.


A Thousand Oaks divorce lawyer can help you understand community property. California is a community property state. A married couple or couple in a domestic partnership is considered an economic community. This means that the property and debt they acquire during their marriage or partnership belongs to both of them.

Community property is property that you and your spouse own together. It includes all property that either of you acquired after your marriage or partnership (and before your separation) other than by gift or inheritance to one of you. People are often surprised to learn that their earnings are community property, even if they are kept separate.

For example, if you opened a savings account while you were married and deposited some money in it every payday, the account is community property even though it’s in your name only and all the money in it came from your pay. If you purchased a car with your savings from the account, the car is community property, even if the title is just in your name.

Similarly, all debts you and your spouse accumulated during your marriage or partnership are community obligations even if only one of you incurred the debt. For example, if your spouse or partner charged items on a credit card that was in his or her name only, the debt is a community debt.

Thousand Oaks divorce lawyer notes that in California, community property and debt is usually divided equally when the parties divorce or dissolve their domestic partnership.


Separate property is property that belongs to you alone. All of the following are separate property:

  • Property you owned before your marriage or domestic partnership.
  • Property you received as a gift or inheritance given just to you and not also to your spouse or partner either before or after your marriage or partnership.
  • Income earned from your separate property, such as interest or rent, regardless of when earned.
  • Property purchased with separate property regardless of when purchased.
  • Property acquired after you separated.

For example, if you bought a car with money inherited from your parents, the car is separate property even if you bought it while married.

On divorce or dissolution, separate property is not divided so long as it was kept separate and not commingled.


Sometimes community property and separate property are mixed together. This is called commingling. Commingling of separate and community property can make division very tricky. So long as the separate part and the community part can still be identified, those parts will remain separate or community. However, if the property is so thoroughly mixed that it is impossible to trace the community and separate parts, the whole will be treated as community property.

For example, one spouse may furnish the down payment on a home from savings he or she had before marriage (separate property). After the marriage, the mortgage is paid with the earnings of either or both spouses (community property). Some of the equity in the home comes from the separate property down payment and some comes from having paid down the mortgage with the community property earnings.


Many complex issues can arise in dividing property on divorce or domestic partnership dissolution, such as:

  • What is the date of separation?
  • Have all the assets and income been found?
  • Which assets and debts are community and which are separate property?
  • If property has been commingled, can the separate and community property be traced?
  • How much is each asset worth?
  • To which spouse or partner should particular assets or debts be given?

If you are facing any of these issues in your California divorce or domestic partnership dissolution and would like to discuss your particular situation with a Thousand Oaks divorce lawyer, please contact me. I look forward to working with you to help you achieve the best possible results for your particular circumstances.

Contact Gary Mitchell Today

Areas Served: I handle divorce and other family law matters in Ventura and Los Angeles Counties including, but not limited to, these cities: Agoura Hills, Calabasas, Camarillo, Encino, Malibu, Moorpark, Oxnard, Sherman Oaks, Simi Valley, Tarzana, Thousand Oaks, Ventura, Westlake Village, Woodland Hills

Disclaimer: The material on this website is for informational purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice. A result described here should not be considered an indication of future results. All cases are different. The only similarity among the case results reported here is that one of the parties was represented by this law firm. The Internet is not an appropriate place for sensitive attorney-client communications. Therefore, if you wish to speak to an attorney, please arrange for an appointment by phone, fax or email. An attorney-client relationship does not exist between you and this law firm until a retainer agreement has been signed. Links from this website to other sites are not intended to be referrals or endorsements of the linked materials.

Gary Mitchell

Family Law

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4195 East Thousand Oaks Blvd Suite 240          Westlake Village, California 91362