Dividing the marital estate can be complex and is a fundamental issue in any divorce. The outcome will affect each spouse, so it is important to minimize any long-term issues to the extent possible. Often times, the division of the marital estate will pose challenges that may be intimidating and highly stressful during the dissolution process, as you may suddenly be forced to deal with business valuations, asset valuations, searching for hidden assets, dealing with retirement accounts, and selling your former marital home.
There are three major components to address in dividing the marital estate: (1) characterization; (2) valuation; and (3) division.
In order to divide the assets, we must first characterize the property to determine whether it is a community property or separate property asset. California is a community property state, which means that all property acquired during the marriage by a married person domiciled in California (whether acquired by the husband, wife, or both) is presumptively community. Separate property includes all property owned before the marriage and all property acquired during the marriage that is:
- Acquired by gift or inheritance
- Produced by separate property; or
- Acquired after the date of separation.
We then focus on determining the fair market value of the asset so we may “assign” this amount to the awarded party’s side of the marital balance sheet. Evidence of valuation will generally be provided by the attorneys based upon expert witnesses, such as appraisers or actuaries. Alternatively, the family court may decide to appoint its own experts to guide the court and make appropriate recommendations based upon his/her expert findings.
However, valuation is typically not required for community assets that will be sold, with the proceeds divided equally.
Attorney Tracey N. Lundquist has experience dealing with property division and can guide you through this process in a cost-efficient manner to ensure your legal rights are properly protected.