There are four basic tasks when dividing up assets and debts in a divorce: listing, characterizing, valuing and dividing.  In the California Judges Benchguide on the subject, a checklist gives recommended steps for a judge to follow in listing and characterizing the assets and debts in a divorce.  By “characterizing” we mean determining for each asset/debt whether it should be considered community (marital), separate (belonging to one of the spouses), or a mixture of the two.

You don’t have to follow these steps when listing and characterizing your assets and debts on your own or in mediation.  But it’s a good overview and a useful guide.

Listing and Characterizing Stepslisting and characterizing

Here is the checklist:

1.  Are there prenuptial or postnuptial agreements that are relevant?
2.  Do the financial disclosure forms of the spouses show agreement as to the status of any property?
3.  Is there any quasi-community (marital but acquired out-of-state) property?
4.  Do either or both spouses own real property? If so, is it community or separate based on any agreement, title or when it was acquired?
5.  What personal property is there, including:

  • Bank accounts and cash
  • Stocks, bonds and secured notes
  • Accounts receivable, unsecured notes and tax refunds
  • Vehicles of all types
  • Life insurance
  • Jewelry, antiques, art, coin collections, etc.
  • Furniture, furnishings and appliances
  • Equipment, machinery and livestock

6.  Is the personal property community or separate based on any agreement, title or when it was acquired?
7.  If there are any personal injury damage awards, are they community or separate?
8.  Does either spouse have any employment benefits, including:

  • Accrued wages, vacation pay and disability pay
  • Pension rights and retirement accounts such as 401(k)s
  • Workers’ comp and disability benefits
  • Stock options
  • Medical insurance rights
  • Rights on termination

9.  What are the community and separate interests in these employment benefits?
10.  Do either or both spouses own a business? If so, what are the community and separate interests?
11.  Do either or both spouses have outstanding liabilities (debts)? If so, are they community or separate?