Understanding what you’re entitled to under California divorce law is important if you’re looking to finalize your divorce with a fair and even arrangement of property.

Whether you’re just starting or in the process of a divorce, read on to learn more about California’s community property laws and why some couples are choosing a different route to finalize the divorce process.

California Divorce Entitlements

Separate Property

When you file for divorce in California, any property you acquired prior to marriage, during your marriage by gift, devise, or bequest, or after the date of legal separation is deemed separate property and will remain legally yours upon the dissolution of your marriage.

Community Property Assets & Debts

Any acquired asset, debt, or income earned by a married person while living with a spouse is community property. California law requires the community estate to be divided equally between divorcing spouses unless otherwise agreed upon by both parties.

For example, if a spouse obtained a professional degree or license during the marriage, the community may be entitled to a reimbursement for the costs of acquiring the degree or license. Such costs include tuition, fees, and books.

Other examples of community property include, but are not limited to:

  • House
  • Car
  • Furniture
  • Clothing
  • Bank accounts and cash
  • Pension plans and retirement accounts
  • Business
  • Patent
  • Debt


When dividing community property and debt, the net value of each spouse’s share must be equal unless the parties agree otherwise. For example, one spouse may be awarded a vacation property and the other awarded the family residence, granted that they are of equal value.

If minor children are involved, the primary custodial parent may be awarded the permanent residence and be allowed to reside there with the children for a specified period of time. This spouse must usually pay the mortgage, property tax, and upkeep expenses unless otherwise agreed upon by both parties.

Retirement Accounts and Pension Plans

Under California divorce law, retirement and pension benefits obtained or funded during marriage will usually be divided equally between spouses at the time of divorce.

Dividing retirement plans will require the preparation of a qualified domestic relations order. Pension plans, on the other hand, are divided as a reservation of jurisdiction or a cash out.

Under the reservation of jurisdiction, the court may order that upon the retirement of the employed spouse, the other must receive a percentage of each pension check. This percentage is typically calculated by dividing the years the spouses lived together in marriage or partnership by the total amount of years the employed spouse participated in the plan.

Under the cash out method, also referred to as actuarial evaluation, the court will determine the “present value” of the community share of the pension plan. Upon cash out, the employed spouse may receive the pension plan in its entirety while the other spouse receives other community property assets of equivalent total value.

Spousal Support

You may be entitled to spousal support, or alimony, upon divorce in California. A spousal support order requires one spouse or domestic partner to pay the other a specified amount each month. The judge will consider several factors in determining whether to award spousal support. These factors include, but are not limited to:

  • Length of the marriage
  • Domestic violence
  • Age and health of both parties
  • Supporting spouse’s ability to pay
  • Tax consequences
  • Goal of self-support

Contact A People’s Choice for more information about spousal support.

Downsides to Focusing on Entitlements In California Divorce Law

Believe it or not, focusing on what you may be entitled to in a California divorce may not be in your or your spouse’s best interest.

Focusing on entitlements in divorce could cause a big fight between parties.

Rather on focusing on entitlements in California divorce, parties may be better served by focusing on what they can agree to. 

Experience has shown that when a couple is more concerned about entitlements rather than agreements and compromises, settlement becomes much more difficult. These arguments could also affect the family dynamic if children are involved. For example, if one party is entitled to an exorbitant amount of spousal and child support that puts unreasonable financial pressures on them, the situation may have a detrimental effect on the split family’s dynamics.

In order to avoid conflict to every possible extent and keep the children’s best interests in mind, think of entitlements this way:

Each party is “entitled to” what both parties are willing to “agree to.”

Although this may not be the advice an attorney would provide, experience has shown that couples who focus more on compromise and agreement than entitlement complete the divorce process with fewer repercussions and are often happier with their final settlement.

At A People’s Choice, we can help you file for divorce and avoid expensive attorney fees. Although we are not attorneys and cannot provide legal advice, we can offer a different perspective to better help our clients get through divorce.

If you’re looking to settle your California divorce case with the least damage possible, contact us for more information about how we can help you.

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