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California Community Property and Keeping Title in Your Own Name

California is a community property state when it comes to divorces. Community property is a complicated subject, but many people summarize it as the rule that says “during a divorce, each spouse gets half of the stuff.”

Given this 50/50 division, a common situation in California divorces is that one spouse (say, Spouse A) feels that he or she isĀ entitled to more than just half of the marital property, sometimes a great deal more than the half that community property dictates. One way in which Spouse A might try to get what he or she feels to be their rightful share is to put the marital property under Spouse A’s name alone. This might be an account (e.g. bank account) that is only in Spouse A’s name or it might be putting just Spouse A’s name on the title to the car or the house.

The logical question to wonder then is: Can Spouse A get around community property law by simply putting property under their name alone?

The short answer is no. There are many Spouse As that try this tactic and it never works.

The longer answer is that this question presents two competing interests. On the one hand is community property which, as I indicated earlier, basically says that all the property acquired during the marriage is split equally upon divorce. See California Family Code section 760. On the other hand is California Evidence Code section 662, which states that the “owner of the legal title to property is presumed to be the other of the full beneficial title.” In other words, whoever is listed as owner to a piece of property is presumed to own it. Rebutting this presumed requires clear and convincing proof.

So, between community property and Evidence Code section 662, which one wins? The answer is community property. “Future courts resolving disputes over how to characterize property acquired during the marriage in an action between the spouses should apply the community property statutes found in the Family Code and not [Evidence Code] section 662.” Marriage of Valli (2014) 58 Cal.4th 1396, 1411-1414.

As always, whenever relying on a case to establish a point of law, check to see if the case has been overruled or otherwise superseded.

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Andy Chen

Andy I. Chen is a lawyer licensed to practice law in California and New York. Andy maintains offices in Los Altos, California and Modesto, California. Under the New York Court of Appeals' 2015 decision in Schoenefeld v. State of New York, Andy does not accept cases from those in New York state. He does, however, know many lawyers in New York state and would be happy to make a referral.

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