When you file for divorce in California, you will have to treat most of your property like community property. State law makes all of your income and major assets acquired during the marriage shared property between you and your spouse that you will have to split when you divorce.
Your debts are also typically community property. Obviously, credit cards that you have both used throughout the marriage are subject to division. Even accounts held only in one of your names will likely be part of the marital estate that you must split with your spouse.
The timing of the debt is what is most important
When a California judge looks over your property to split it up and reviews your debts, the date of acquisition will have a major influence on how they decide to split your financial resources and obligations. Debt that either of you had prior to the marriage will probably remain the separate property of the person who owes it, but most of the debt from during the marriage will be split up between the spouses when they divorce.
Only in rare cases where you can convince a judge that a debt is the result of financial misconduct, such as intentionally spending on credit to diminish the marital estate, will you be able to convince a judge to exclude certain debts from the marital estate.
You could potentially reach an agreement with your spouse outside of court where they agree to take on certain debts, possibly in exchange for specific assets. Otherwise, it will be a judge who decides the most appropriate way to split your assets and obligations. One spouse could end up with far more property and more debt, or a judge could try to divide everything. Much is left to their discretion in the process.
Understanding how California handles marital property can help those preparing to file for divorce. Having experienced legal guidance can help you work to secure a fair division of assets and debts.