California is a community property state. For many readers, that may be interpreted to mean that if a couple decides to divorce in the state, all the assets and debts they have accumulated during the marriage need to be equally split down the middle.
In an ideal world that might be the way to go, but if you think about it for a second you come to appreciate that following such a model to the letter is not likely to be achieved. Life is not so neat that assets and debts can be stacked up and split in half.
No, issues of property division typically require a certain amount of negotiation to arrive at a deal that both sides can live with. And even then, the work is really not done. Regardless of any deal that a separating couple might reach, it doesn't become final in California without a judge formally signing off on it. Until then, all community property and debts remain the responsibility of the divorcing parties equally.
Because even splits are largely impossible to achieve, the courts in California tend to be willing to accept agreements in which both spouses end up with "roughly" the same levels of debt and assets on their plates.
For example, say a couple has two bank accounts. If both of them hold about the same balance, one can go to each spouse. If the balances are unequal, the transfer of another asset or debt might be arranged to make things fairer.
Dividing debt represents a special circumstance that requires particular caution. It's not simply a matter of each spouse agreeing to take half their joint credit card accounts. Creditors aren't bound by such agreements and could go after both of you if problems with the account arise.
Most people cannot fathom the number of issues that can surface in the course of a divorce proceeding. Spotting and avoiding them should always be a priority and can be best achieved with an experienced attorney's help.
Source: Courts.ca.gov, "Dividing Property and Debts in a Divorce," accessed July 18, 2014