In a California divorce, the question of entitlement to assets, particularly when one spouse owns the house, comes up frequently. Some people find themselves wondering if they have any claim to a portion of the property, especially if it was owned by their spouse prior to marriage.

California law states that even if the house was initially owned by one spouse before the marriage, it can still be subject to division upon divorce. California operates under the principle of community property, which means that assets acquired during the marriage, or those assets the community helped pay for, including those initially belonging to one spouse, are considered shared marital property.

So, what determines the division of the house in such scenarios? It’s a process called a “Moore Marsden calculation.” This calculation involves assessing the contributions made to the property during the marriage, particularly regarding mortgage payments. Any payments made from the income of either or both spouses during the marriage are considered community assets, thereby entitling each spouse to a share.

The division is not necessarily a simple 50-50 split. Instead, it involves an evaluation of the separate property portion before marriage and the community property payments made during the marriage. This evaluation considers the pay-down of the mortgage principal during the marital period.

If there is a premarital agreement that explicitly states that certain assets remain separate after the marriage (such as income earned during the marriage) then those assets may not be subject to division. But absent such an agreement, the marital value of the property—irrespective of whose name it’s under—can still be up for division in divorce proceedings.

Ultimately, the key takeaway is that even if the house is solely in one spouse’s name, the other spouse may still be entitled to a share of its value upon divorce in California. The complexities of property division underscore the importance of seeking legal guidance for your divorce.

The Kim Mediation and Law Center is located at 3701 Wilshire Blvd, Suite 508 in Los Angeles, CA . You may schedule an appointment by calling 213-352-1000. Or visit