Some divorces are uncontested, meaning both parties agree on all issues at hand. These issues include dividing assets, and whether one spouse will support the other in any way. For example, a couple may decide the best plan for child support and/or spousal support on their own. Unfortunately, that is not always the case.

In these situations, the court must step in to make decisions for the two parties. Many people fail to understand how the court determines the division of assets in California; this article will help you understand the specific guidelines and laws a judge must follow.

Calculating Property Division in a California Divorce

California is a community property state, which means everything spouses earn or purchase while married and living together is both spouses’ (or community) property. As a result, unless couples agree to a different arrangement, the court will divide community property evenly during a contested divorce. Each spouse will receive 50% of property belonging to the “community” under the court’s definition. Believe it or not, the court will divide everything ranging from a house or a car to bank accounts and pension plans — even debt!

Dividing community property isn’t always an even 50/50 split for the court. Instead, the judge must also consider other types of property such as mixed community and separate property. This is property that is part community (or belonging to both spouses) and part separate.

For example, if one spouse started contributing to a pension plan prior to marriage and continued while married, the court would consider only a part of that pension plan community property. Due to such complications, the court utilizes a qualified domestic relations order, or QDRO, to divide pensions and retirement benefits.

Calculating Support Orders

When calculating child, spousal, or family support during an uncontested divorce, the judge must take into consideration a plethora of circumstantial and financial information.

Child Support

First, if one parent is requesting child support from another parent, the court must consider the following:

  • Each parent’s gross income
  • The percentage of time each parent spends with their child
  • Income tax deductions each parent can claim
  • Mandatory payroll deductions such as health care costs, pensions, and union dues
  • Childcare costs incurred by the parents

Judges require all of this information to calculate child support according to California’s child support guideline. This guideline is a complicated formula that utilizes the data above to determine an appropriate child support order. While the court will rule on child support orders if requested, either parent may request modification of the order at a later date. However, that individual must prove a substantial change in one of the circumstances listed above to receive a new order.

Spousal Support

When calculating spousal support orders, the court will first consider each spouse’s earning capacity. Additionally, they will calculate the amount of money required to maintain each spouse’s marital standard of living. There is a very long list of further considerations necessary for determining an appropriate amount of spousal support. For example, the judge will look at the duration of the marriage, each spouse’s age and health, and the balance of hardships between the parties. Ultimately, spousal support is intended to enable the supported spouse to become self-sufficient in a “reasonable period of time.” The court expects this to occur in about half the length of the marriage. That said, as with child support, parties can usually request a modification of a spousal support order at a later date.

Family Support

If you are requesting or paying both child and spousal support during a California divorce, you may want to consider requesting a family support order instead. Family support orders combine child and spousal support into one payment. These orders also provide potential tax breaks for both parties involved.

California Court Requirements for Property Division Modifications

California Code of Civil Procedure 473(b) outlines the legislation on modifying a previous judgment. Generally speaking, the court will only change a previously entered judgment with evidence of mistake, nondisclosure, or fraud.

These qualifications are further defined by California Family Code Section 2122. This law lists the circumstances under which the court will consider changing a family law order regarding property division. They include, and are limited to:

  • Actual fraud where the defrauded party was kept in ignorance or in some other manner was fraudulently prevented from fully participating in the proceeding
  • Perjury
  • Duress
  • Mental incapacity
  • Mistake, either mutual or unilateral, whether mistake of law or mistake of fact
  • Failure to comply with property disclosure requirements

Section 2121 also mentions that in order for the court to make changes to a divorce agreement on property division, the effect must be major. Small inconsistencies or mistakes in a judgment will not be eligible for a change.

Save Money With A People’s Choice

If you are involved in a relatively uncomplicated contested divorce and want to save money by representing yourself, consider working with A People’s Choice instead of an attorney. A People’s Choice offers low-cost, attorney free help with completing and filing all the legal documents required for California divorce.

Plus, we can help you file motions for custody, visitation, and/or support, as well as QDROs and other documents needed to divide property. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help with your family law needs.