Divorce may not be easy, but that doesn’t mean the property division has to be a pain. Whether you have relatively few assets or have a substantial net worth, you will have to make some decisions when it comes to splitting your household into two homes and lives again. To do so and secure a divorce order from a judge, couples must divide any property collected throughout their marriage, as well as any shared debts. In this process, you must protect your interests in the division of your property and debt as part of your divorce proceeding, and a property division lawyer can help you do just that. At the Law Offices of Michelanne Hrubic, our Riverside property division lawyer can help you resolve complex property division issues, either through negotiation or through the courts. For some fast facts on property division and how an attorney will be able to help you navigate it, read below, or call 951-888-0631 to schedule an initial consultation at our law firm in Riverside.
Property brought into a marriage may be separate, and spouses may wish to keep things that way, but if that desire isn’t agreed upon through legally binding documents, there is a lot of room for misunderstandings, disagreements, and hurt feelings. Alternatively, many couples who enter marriage with an understanding that all property is shared will find themselves struggling to be as generous as their relationship ends. This is why it is crucial to have open communications about asset division with your partner before marriage and even more vital to do so in the wake of divorce. This is due in no small part because, depending on your state of residence, laws will vary regarding the two classifications of property in divorce—community property and separate property.
In family law, “community property” is typically defined as money earned by either spouse during marriage and all property bought with those earnings. This means that all other assets are “separate property.” California law plays closely by these rules, viewing any assets, except for inheritances or gifts, or debt acquired during a marriage as community property. Assets that were acquired prior to the marriage are considered separate property and are generally not subject to division. While this seems simple enough, things can get complicated quickly.
Have you ever heard about the tendency for separate property to transmute into community property? The word “transmute” is borrowed from the alchemical idea of turning lead into gold. In the case of divorce assets, it also refers to turning something from one state of being into another. That’s why it’s often applied to describe the caveat to these laws, indicating that some separate property may transmute into community property if it begins to function as community property during the marriage. You have most likely performed certain actions throughout your marriage that commingled your finances with your spouse’s. This can lead to certain assets you’ve been considering to be your personal property falling in the shared category, thus making them eligible for division.
Some cases of this would be when one person owns an item or asset before the marriage and then transfers ownership to their spouse or maintains joint ownership. Transmutation also occurs when separate assets are mixed with marital assets to make them indistinguishable. Say, if one spouse deposits a chunk of money from separate funds into a joint account but cannot find receipts of the transaction. These funds would be considered community money by law unless the party can show some form of evidence that the amount of money being named as separate funds came from their one deposit and isn’t just the aggregate of both parties’ earnings.
The best way to start with your division of assets is to make a list divided into three categories—your property, your spouse’s property, and shared property. Each party should do this and then compare their lists to see where things match up and where there are misunderstandings or gaps in the record. Remember that this includes homes, vehicles, bank accounts, insurance policies, retirement assets, and investments. For couples in good standing, this can be a relatively straightforward process, with disputes resolved through reasonable discussions. Once disagreements are met that become more of a brick wall, it’s time for professionals to step in.
Regardless of what property goes in what category and is awarded to which party, it’s in everyone’s best interest to ensure that all property is properly valued, including things that may not have an easily identifiable price, such as a business or artwork. This is another case in which an asset division attorney can help tremendously. You may not know how to get into contact with all the proper individuals for every item, especially for those you consider priceless. It can also be quite the long and arduous process for some people to trace an item in their possession back to determine ownership, let alone price. At the Law Offices of Michelanne Hrubic, we are experienced in taking care of all these details and more, helping people identify all property that is to be divided, and working directly with experts when necessary to ensure proper valuation.
Unsurprisingly, where things can get messy is if you and your spouse have never discussed arrangements for alimony, child support, or other financial spousal support. For couples who have signed prenuptial agreements or have an excellent understanding of their division of assets, this may be no problem (though even divorcees with prenups should be reviewing them and discussing their options with a professional), but many couples assume they’ll never have to think about these things until suddenly they do.
For those who haven’t discussed this part of asset division with their spouses, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the concepts. Alimony is what you call spousal support payments made by a spouse with more assets to help the other spouse maintain their lifestyle. Alimony may be awarded temporarily by the courts to support a spouse during a pending divorce yet not in the official division. Or it can be a permanent fixture of a divorce with one spouse making payments to equal out each party’s economic status. Generally, alimony will be awarded to spouses in situations with wide gaps between their wages and a long history of marriage that would have accustomed the supported spouse to a certain level of comfort. Judges will not typically award alimony to couples married for very short amounts of time, with many states not even allowing alimony in cases of marriages lasting less than one year.
Depending on the award amount, alimony payments can be made in the form of a lump sum, periodic monthly payments, or even property transfers. The most common type of alimony is that ordered to be awarded in periodic payments. These payments will either end on a date the judge has set, when the supported spouse remarries or cohabitates, when one or both spouses die, or after a significant life event. The definition for what legally qualifies as cohabitation is different across varying states, but typically it is used to refer to two parties living together and sharing expenses in a committed relationship akin to marriage—some states call long, non-legally certified relationships like these common law marriages. As the end date for alimony payments varies from state to state, spouses ordered to pay should be sure to seek clarification for all its conditions. If you have undergone a divorce and are paying spousal support for which you believe there are grounds to terminate, a good divorce lawyer is key.
Divorce in California can be expensive, and there may be many areas in which you are trying to save money. But the money you spend on the attorney is a direct investment into your divorce experience. While you can perform a divorce without either party engaging with counsel, it can undoubtedly be a bumpier road. There are, however, certain circumstances you should never go without legal representation:
Of course, in any divorce in which the parties cannot reach an agreement on a settlement, it is always important to secure representation for the court trial.
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