A. You may not need a lawyer; it depends on how straightforward your situation is. But if you have anything of value (or if you have significant debt), it is always a good idea to at least have a consultation with a lawyer. You may not need to hire a lawyer to take on your entire case. You may be able to resolve your concerns by hiring a lawyer to help you with just the property part of your case.
A. Not exactly. It does not matter who is using the property or who has control of it; community property items still belong to the community until a judge awards them to 1 of the parties. The separate property of 1 spouse or domestic partner still belongs to that person, even if the other party is using it.
A. The fair market value of an item is the amount it would bring if you sold it “as is” (in its current condition). The value of furniture is what you would get for it in a yard sale or if you listed it in the want ads. If you are trying to figure out the value of a car, you can check the Kelley Blue Book.
If you want to figure out the value of your home, ask a real estate agent for several comparable values or get a formal appraisal done.
A. No. Half of the value of the car belongs to your spouse or domestic partner. All money earned by both spouses or domestic partners during the marriage or domestic partnership is community property, so anything bought with that money belongs to both parties equally.
A. It depends on where the money to buy the item came from. For example, if 1 spouse or domestic partner inherits money, even if it is during the marriage or domestic partnership, that is separate property. Whatever the spouse or domestic partner then buys with the inherited money also becomes the separate property of that person.
Always look at the source of the money used to buy an item. In this way, you can decide if the item is separate property or community property.
A. This situation can present problems for you and your spouse or domestic partner. When you applied for the card, both of you signed the agreement to pay. Later, you terminated your partnership or marriage. Even if you now say that you alone will pay the joint debt, the credit card company is not bound by your agreement or divorce court order. The credit card company can still come after your spouse or domestic partner when payments are not made. If this happens, both of your credit ratings will be hurt.
A. This is called “commingling.” A common situation is when 1 party owned a house before the marriage or domestic partnership and then sold it and used the proceeds as a down payment on another house after getting married, or after registering a domestic partnership.
The down payment for this new house would be considered separate property (since the money came from selling a house that 1 person owned before the marriage or partnership). But if the mortgage payments on the new house are made during the marriage or partnership using the earnings of either 1 of you, the equity (value) resulting from paying down the house loan is community property. The result is that the equity in the house is commingled.
If you have a situation like this, it is very important to speak to a lawyer about it.
A. Yes. Contributions you each make to your pension before the marriage or domestic partnership are separate property. Contributions made after the date of marriage or registration of the domestic partnership are community property, so they will be equally divided between parties in the divorce case.
Dividing a pension is more complicated than dividing some other kinds of property. This is one of the situations where a lawyer’s help is necessary.
A. You both may be able to keep your own pension. But you need to be sure of the value of each pension. You should talk about this option with a lawyer.
A. A pension can be more valuable than any other asset acquired during the marriage or domestic partnership, including a house. It may be worth more than all of the other assets put together.
It is a good idea to have a lawyer’s help any time you have such a valuable asset, but this is even more important when you are dealing with a pension. The reason is that special rules apply to pensions. These are very technical and do not apply to any other kind of asset.
A pension plan must be “joined” as a party in your divorce case before a judge will issue an order about how the pension will be divided. That court order is called a qualified domestic relations order, or QDRO. If you make an error, there could be harmful results. It is certainly worth paying a lawyer to correctly prepare the QDRO for you.
A. It depends. If your marital settlement agreement (MSA) was “merged” or “incorporated into” (became part of) your judgment, then you can enforce it like any family law money judgment. Read the section on Collecting Your Family Law Money Judgment for information and instructions to follow.
But if your MSA was not merged or incorporated into your judgment, it is treated like a contract and not a judgment. This means you cannot enforce it like you can enforce a money judgment. If you want to enforce any of the terms of the MSA, you have to file a civil case for breach of contract and get a judgment through that civil case.
You may want to talk to a lawyer about how to file a civil case for breach of contract. Click for help finding a lawyer.