Finding a fair way to split up your possessions during a divorce can seem impossible, especially if you and your ex have an interest in some of the same possessions. Uncertainty about the asset division process can leave people feeling nervous or scared about filing for a divorce.

Learning a little bit about how California handles property division during divorce proceedings can help you feel more confident about filing and give you a better understanding of what to expect.

There are situations in which you retain control over property decisions

Not all divorces have the final terms set by the courts. Some couples file for an uncontested divorce, which allows them to retain control of the terms set. It is common for people with prenuptial agreements or post-nuptial agreements to use those documents to pave the way for an uncontested divorce filing.

It is also possible for people to go through mediation or even arbitration in order to reach a compromise that works for both parties. However, if you can’t find a way to set terms on your own with your ex, the courts will ultimately have the authority to decide for you when you file for a contested divorce.

California is a community property state

Different states have different rules regarding property division. In California, what you acquire during your marriage typically becomes community property owned jointly by both spouses. Both your assets, like your home equity, and your debts will be subject to division.

You can generally expect that the assets and debts you’ve accumulated during marriage, ranging from credit card balances to equity in your home, will be subject to division. The exact way that the courts split your assets will depend on a number of factors, including your contributions to the marriage, the length of the marriage and even your earning potential.

For example, the courts may give a higher-earning spouse a slightly larger share of the community property but also expect them to pay most, if not all, of the community or marital debt. The judge overseeing your divorce will generally try to ensure that property division orders reflect the unique circumstances of your family and are as fair as possible.