When a couple in California decides to end their marriage or domestic partnership, one issue they face is property division. Therefore, it is important to understand the difference between community property and separate property in the state of California, and what happens when these two types of property commingle.
In general, community property is that in which one or both spouses obtained during the marriage. The same is true of those in a domestic partnership. This also includes any money earned by either one or both spouses or, in the case of a domestic partnership, partners. Therefore, property bought with money earned during the marriage belongs to both parties, even if it was only paid for with one person's earnings during the marriage. Under the laws of community property, each party has ownership rights of 50 percent of the community property.
However, inheritances or gifts made to solely one party may not be considered community property, even if the party obtained them while married or in a domestic partnership. In addition, any property that one party owned prior to their marriage or domestic partnership may be considered separate property. Therefore, property purchased with separate property, such as an inheritance, will be considered separate property, even if it was purchased while the parties were in a marriage or domestic partnership. In addition, property obtained by one party after they have separated using money that that party earned on their own may be considered separate property.
That being said, there are times when separate property and community property "commingle." This means the property has in one way or another been combined in a way that makes it difficult to tell whether it is separate or community property. In certain situations, property that started off as separate may become community property due to commingling. While hopefully this post has been informative, it is not legal advice. If questions arise during your divorce or separation as to whether a piece of property is separate or community, you may want to seek further advice.
Source: California Courts: The Judicial Branch of California, "Property and Debt in a Divorce or Legal Separation," accessed on Dec. 15, 2014