California is a community property state, meaning all debts and assets acquired during the marriage are marital property and belong equally to both parties. Generally, property that belonged to one individual before the marriage will go back to that individual in divorce.
If one spouse owned the family home prior to the marriage, whether it is a separate individual asset or community property upon divorce is a gray area depending on what happened during the marriage. If the nonowner spouse made financial contributions to the property during the marriage, they may receive reimbursement.
What names are on the title?
If the owner spouse added the nonowner spouse’s name to the title for the house during the marriage, or as part of a refinance, a court will view the house as a jointly owned marital asset.
Who paid the mortgage?
Even if both names are not on the title, if mortgage payments came out of a joint marital bank account, the nonowner spouse made a monetary investment in the home.
Did the value of the home increase during the marriage?
If funds for home improvements or home repairs during the marriage came out of a joint marital bank account, the nonowner spouse has made a contribution to the home, making it joint marital property.
A house owned by one spouse prior to the marriage could be separate property upon divorce if the house remains a passive asset throughout the marriage without causing any gain and with no investment made in it. However, this is unlikely if the married couple resided in the home during the marriage.