What is Considered “Property” in a Divorce Case?

shared-property-room.jpgIn a recent divorce between Black Keys’ singer, Dan Auerbach, and his former wife, Stephanie Gonis, the parties divided an unusual asset – a lock of Bob Dylan’s hair. This is a perfect example of the family law principle that all property must be divided upon dissolution. In the Auerbach-Gonis divorce, the parties owned a variety of typical assets such as real property, vehicles, and cash; however, all property – including valuable locks of hair must be divided at the time of judgment.

In the beginning of each divorce case, the parties are required to disclose and characterize all property either party has an interest in. “Property” is defined in California Civil Code Section 654 as, “the ownership of a thing is the right of one or more persons to possess and use it to the exclusion of others…the thing of which there may be ownership is called property”. Property can be further characterized as “real” property and “personal” property. Generally in dissolution proceedings, real estate (including the marital residence and vacation homes) are the only “real” property divided. All other property is generally “personal” property.

shared-property.jpgUltimately Gonis was awarded Bob Dylan’s hair pursuant to the Auerbach-Gonis judgment. According to the California Family Code and applicable California case law, the community estate must be divided equally between the parties. The community estate consists of all the community property acquired by the parties from the date of marriage to the date of separation. In some circumstances, although the estate as a whole can be divided equally in terms of the value each party receives, all assets may not be divisible. It is important to note that all property, including the separate property of both spouses, must be disclosed. Separate property is defined all property acquired by either spouse prior to marriage, after separation, or during marriage by gift, bequest, or devise. If property is determined to be the separate property of one spouse, that property will be confirmed to that spouse in the final judgment without offset for its value.

In a case where a community asset cannot simply be divided in half and distributed to the parties, such as a lock of hair, the parties will have two options. First, the parties can agree on the value of the indivisible item and offset the division of other assets to account for one party receiving the asset in full. Second, the parties can agree to sell the indivisible item and split the proceeds equally. If an asset is easily divisible, such as the funds in a bank account, the parties can each take one-half of the asset without the need for a valuation or sale.

Please contact us if you are considering a divorce from your spouse, a legal separation, or have questions regarding child custody and visitation. Nancy J. Bickford is the only attorney in San Diego County representing clients in divorces, who is a Certified Family Law Specialist (CFLS) and who is actively licensed as a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). Don’t settle for less when determining your rights. Call 858-793-8884 in Del Mar, Carmel Valley, North County or San Diego.

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