To make the separation of property as equal as possible, California embraces community property law. This means you can be confident that you will receive your fair share of the property acquired during your marriage and with the right documentation, be able to easily maintain anything that you inherited or brought into your marriage. While community property law is in place to help you retain what is yours, know that your spouse may have other ideas about which property belongs to whom.
For questions on how your property will be divided or any other issues regarding the divorce process, always remember to consult with your divorce attorney and allow them to be your guide. In an effort to better inform you and to help ready you for property division, below we have prepared a list of ten tips that will help you protect your assets.
While community property law is in place to help you retain what is yours, know that your spouse may have other ideas about which property belongs to whom.
Retain Your Personal Property
1. Inventory all of your Valuables: These items are not just possessions. They mean the world to you and you want to make sure they are off limits and will remain with you after your divorce.
- Any objects that have been given directly to you-not both you and your spouse- including jewelry or heirlooms that have been passed down to you, rightfully belong to you.
- Be sure to list and photograph everything you were given.
- After you have properly catalogued each of your valuables, move them to a safe place in a timely manner as it may be more difficult to go back and get them if you choose to leave your residence.
2. Get Proof of Inherited or Gifted Possessions: If you have written proof to verify that certain items were given solely to you it will be a lot easier to ensure that they will stay with you.
- If possible, ask the family member that handed down the item for written proof.
- Make sure that they mention as much information about the item as possible, including when the item was gifted to you.
3. Rightfully Acquire your Property from your Home: If you have chosen to move out of your residence, do not worry. Unless there is a court order giving your spouse exclusive ownership, you can return to your home to retrieve your belongings. Even if your spouse has changed the locks, you are lawfully allowed to have a locksmith help you get inside.
4. Know the Status of all Property: If you will retain possession of any big ticket items such as automobiles or real estate after the divorce, make sure that you obtain all of the records for those items.
- You should know if your spouse placed any liens against property holdings or deposited money in alternate accounts.
- You should also make sure that there aren’t any outstanding tickets or registration payments on your car.
Know How to Handle Your Shared Property
5. Hire an Appraiser: A good way to guarantee that all parties are compensated fairly is by hiring a professional to go over your real estate and other valuable assets.
- Have them assess everything of value, including joint businesses and retirement plans.
- If you own a business, consider a forensic accountant who will be of great value in interpreting your business records, helping you place a correct value on your business, and also making sure that all fiduciary concerns are properly handled.
- If you need assistance, never be afraid to utilize your attorney’s experience. Allow them to suggest professionals that will be both frank and trustworthy.
6. Photograph Joint Property and Take what you don’t want to Replace: With the exception of a business run by one spouse, you will both have equal rights to common assets from your marital residence.
- All property will be evaluated at its current market condition price. For example, say you spent $50 on a toaster. While the market value for a used toaster is probably much less than this, it will still cost you $50 to replace it.
- Take photos of all joint property and then take any hard to find items or things that you don’t want to replace.
- Also, make a list and keep the photographs of the items of significant value that you did not take.
7. Your Spouse Has the Same Rights: You should be aware that your spouse shares the same rights as you do concerning shared property. Unless you have a court order stating that you have exclusive ownership of the home, he or she may also hire a locksmith to gain entry if you have changed the locks.
- In this situation, as stated above, if there are things that hold a special meaning to you or there are items that you do not want to replace, move them to a secure location to guarantee that they remain with you.
Help yourself and your Attorney by Acquiring all Personal and Business Records
8. Make Copies of All Important Documents: You’ll need to have copies of all important documents before you leave your residence. While your attorney will be able to obtain them with subpoenas, it will be easier and faster for you to have this taken care of before the process begins. Make copies of any important deeds:
- Past three years of tax returns
- Pension plan
- Savings and investment account statements
- If you are a business owner make copies of joint tax filings, profit and loss statements, balance sheets and make an effort to acquire a backup copy of computerized accounting records
9. Keep Your Business Records Transparent After Your Separation: If you own a business, do not change anything concerning billing practices.
- For instance, if you were to change the way that clients have paid in the past, you would only be asking for your records to be under intense scrutiny if you were unable to prove that specific work occurred before or after your separation.
- Make sure that you stay honest and discuss common practice with your attorney. Any experienced divorce attorney should be able to let you know if your business files are accessible through attorney privilege.
10. You Can Rightfully Obtain Business Records: You have every right to interest from a shared business. In order to determine the amount of interest you deserve, feel free to have your attorney obtain and make copies of financial documents and client records. Also, if you feel comfortable enough to do so, it is legal for you to access your spouse’s office.