Community property

MANY people have misconceptions or are misinformed about family law here in the United States, specifically, in the State of California.  They tend to not know their rights that deal in this area.  These include the areas of divorces, custody, child/spousal support, paternity actions, wills/trusts, property rights etc.

In the years that I have practiced family law, I found that clients are better off if they are briefed about the law and what the law could and would provide for them prior to engaging in full litigation. This will prevent unwanted surprises and shock during litigation.

When you are dealing with matters important as the area of “family”, you must be cautious.  How you act today with your properties is determinative to what may occur in tomorrow’s divorce case.  In today’s article, I would like to discuss the area of “community property” in the State of California.

Contrary to what many people believe, titles to properties do not necessarily determine whose property it belongs to.  Property rights are determined by community property laws.  Under community property laws, all assets and debts acquired by either spouse during marriage is community property, with certain exceptions.

For instance, if my husband has a credit card, under his name only and used that credit card to buy a motorcycle for $5000.00 that only he uses, then that debt and that motorcycle is ½ mine.  That motorcycle is community property because my husband bought it at the time when we were married and living together as husband and wife.  That credit card debt of $5000.00 is also a community debt because it was also incurred when we were married and living together as husband and wife.  Therefore, I’m stuck.  I now have a ½ of a motorcycle and possibly a $2500.00 debt that I never wanted.

Another example is pensions and/or retirement plans.  Even though the monies are not going to be distributed until retirement, that “bank” is accumulating.  Because it is accumulating during the time I am married to someone, then that “bank” is ½ mine and ½ my husband’s.  Of course, the community will only have the portion of accumulation from the date of marriage to the date of separation.  Not before and certainly not after.

The scenarios above are examples of how property rights operate in California.  Unfortunately, some of  my clients did not know this and assumed that whatever is his name is his and whatever is under her name is hers.  Understanding your rights in family law could and would protect you from unexpected surprises.

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Ethelene F. Salas, Esq. is a practicing family law attorney.  Ms. Salas is a Filipino-American born in the Philippines, raised in the United States, and speaks Tagalog fluently.  The Law Offices of Ethelene F. Salas is located at two locations – the main office at 100 N. Barranca St., Suite 700, West Covina, CA 91791 and affiliated offices at 18000 Studebaker Road, Suite 700, Cerritos, CA 90703.  To schedule an appointment with her, please call (626) 858-4646 or visit

Atty. Ethelene Salas
Atty. Ethelene Salas

Ethelene F. Salas, Esq. is a practicing California attorney. She assists clients throughout Los Angeles County, Orange County and the Inland Empire with matters in areas such as divorces, paternity, custody/visitations, child and spousal support, restraining orders, guardianships, wills/trusts, bankruptcy, and family/employer based immigration.

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