Marriage & Divorce
Guide to Laws about Marriage and Divorce in California
When I marry another person, do they immediately own half of my assets?
Not exactly. Once you are married, all money or other assets earned during the marriage by either spouse is considered part of a collective pot called “community property.” Each spouse owns 50% of that. Anything either spouse buys with the community property is still community property.
Assets owned by either spouse before the marriage are not community property, but are the “separate property” of that spouse. Also, gifts or inheritance given specifically to only one spouse are the separate property of that spouse, regardless of whether the spouse received the gift or inheritance before or during the marriage.
However, you can get out of this default arrangement by agreeing with your spouse to do a prenuptial agreement aka “prenup,” or even a postnuptial aka “postnup.” See more below.
What about earnings or property that are not in both spouses’ names?
The “title” of property – whether on the documents it is in one person’s name, or the other’s, or both – doesn’t really matter for determining what is community property. Regardless of title, if the money has been earned by either spouse during the marriage, or property is purchased with money earned by either spouse during the marriage, it is generally community property.
Am I responsible for my spouse’s debt?
In a way, yes (unless you have a prenup or postnup; see below). More accurately though, it’s only the “community property” that is responsible for your spouse’s debt (see above regarding community property). Your “separate property” is NOT responsible for your spouse’s debt.
What is a prenup (prenuptial agreement) or postnup (postnuptial agreement)?
A prenup is an agreement made between 2 people who intend to marry, setting out the financial terms of the marriage. This usually involves declaring that there will be no “community property” or that only certain property will be “community property.”
A postnup is the same type of agreement, but made after the wedding.
To be enforceable, prenups and postnups must be in writing, and both spouses should be separately advised by lawyers.
If I want a divorce, do I have to prove that the other spouse did something wrong?
No, California is a “no-fault” divorce state.
If my spouse and I divorce, what assets will each of us get?
Assuming you do not have a prenup or postnup (see above), each spouse will get 50% of the community property (see above), and each will maintain their own separate property. It does not matter how many years you were married.
However, in certain circumstances one spouse may be awarded “spousal support” from the other. If you are married less than 10 years, the spousal support can last up to half the length of the marriage. If you are married 10 years or more, there is no set duration for spousal support.
Is same sex marriage legal in California?
Yes, as in every other state in the country. See our Guide to Civil Rights.