Who Gets the House in a California Divorce?

Dividing the house in California divorce
Last Updated on April 2024

A judge may award one spouse the home in exchange for buying out the other spouse’s share of the house. In other cases, a judge may order the couple to sell the house and divide the proceeds.

When spouses make a decision to end their marriage, they have many issues to discuss before this process can be initiated and finalized. One of those matters is property division. The question of who is going to get the house is the one often causing contention among spouses, as the determining factors might be confusing. In order to answer it, one needs to look at state laws concerning property and assets division.

Community vs. Separate Property: Who Keeps the House?

California is a community property state. So, if your question is, “is everything split 50/50 in a divorce in California?” the answer is generally yes, although it doesn’t cover all the things you or your spouse own. The CA courts regard any property jointly owned by spouses when it was acquired during their married years and before the separation. Other property, along with presents and inherited items, is usually referred to as separate property. However, there are exceptions where separate property may be subject to division or one spouse may be entitled to a bigger part of a certain asset.

What determines who gets the house in a divorce?

  • Whether spouses have children, and if yes, where they will live and with whom.
  • Whether one of the parties is able to maintain the house after the marriage dissolution is finalized.
  • If there are debts to pay off and the house should be sold for these purposes.
  • If the house was inherited or gifted to one of the spouses.
  • If one of the spouses owned the house prior to the marriage and whether the other one contributed to its improvement.
  • Any prenuptial or postnuptial agreements.

Community Property

Community property is usually some asset that was bought by both spouses in a marriage and is in both their names. According to California divorce laws, each party is eligible for an equal share of the jointly owned house during the divorce unless there are factors, such as those mentioned above, that may affect the division. Since California is a no-fault state, any possible wrongdoing will not be regarded as an important factor during the hearing and won’t influence the judge’s decision.

Separate Property

Separate property is an asset that belonged to one of the spouses before the marriage, and the name of the second party was not added to the documents. Gifts, inheritance, and property acquired after separation or during the marriage with only one name on the title are often solely owned by one party. However, during the marriage, assets may get “mixed up” with other ones, sold to buy jointly owned property, get an added value due to the other spouse’s contribution, etc. This may potentially make the house you perceived as only owned by you divisible.  

What Are the Options When It Comes to Dividing House in a Divorce?

You may decide how to divide the house in a divorce settlement as you both see fit or seek outside help if you cannot reach an agreement. The options available to you are, but are not limited to the following:

  • Half of the house can be sold to the party who wants to own it all. It means that if your husband or wife gets half, you can simply buy it if he or she agrees. This is the easiest way to become the sole owner of the property but not the cheapest one, and it is impossible if the second party is not willing to sell it.
  • You can sell the house and divide the income as you see fit. In this case, the court is not to decide the amount of share each party gets. It can be a 50/50 division, or one of the spouses can get more by mutual agreement.
  • Exchanging your half for other valuables. There may be cars or other properties, and there is no need to divide each item equally if you can both get a different set of assets similar in value.