When a married couple divorces, they must divide the property they own together according to state law. Each state has its own laws about the best way to do this. Most states practice equitable distribution, meaning that the law provides guidelines to ensure the division is fair. By contrast, California is a community property state. To generalize, this means all the couple's joint property should be divided equally. In practice, California property division is more complicated than a 50-50 split, especially when it comes to complex assets such as retirement funds.
California is one of the few states that still considers both income and assets within a marriage as community property. In other words, all property acquired during a marriage such as residential real estate, joint bank accounts, retirement accounts, vehicles, and even personal household furnishings are considered to belong to both parties.
When two Californians marry, they may look forward to the combining of their lives and the mixing of their wealth and assets. Some individuals feel more comfortable when they are able to share their assets and burdens with another person; the ability to own property jointly with one's spouse is a benefit that married people can enjoy.
Dividing assets can be the most complicated and contentious part of a divorce. Not only are there logistical challenges associated with collecting all the information on debts and marital assets, but emotions like anger, bitterness and fear can be running high, making it difficult to see things objectively.