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Managing Community Property during California Marriage

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Do I Have to Let My Spouse Manage Our Community Property?

No. California and other community property states allow for both spouses to have equal control over community property. In addition, each spouse is responsible for protecting the other's interest in the property.  

One exception to this rule is if your spouse runs a business. In that case your rights are more limited but you are still entitled to income from the business and your spouse cannot recklessly waste the business' assets.

Can I Sue my Spouse for Not Managing Our Community Property Well?

The answer depends on what you mean by "well."  If you mean with good intentions, but bad results, then chances are you cannot sue.  

You can always ask your spouse to give an account of how your community assets have been managed, and if necessary, you can even get a court order to do this. But, if your spouse used reasonable caution in managing your money, and the investments or expenses were made with your permission, then you cannot sue.

However, if your spouse was reckless, or the investments or expenses were without your permission, then you can sue your spouse for improper management of your community property.

In addition, you are always entitled to a 50% share of the profits made by investing community property, whether or not the investment was made with your permission.

Can I Sue Even If We Are Still Married and Not Planning to Divorce?

Yes.  In some marriages, it may be necessary to protect the marital assets from waste, for example if one spouse gambles too much. You may also need to get a temporary court order if your spouse is wasting community money. An attorney can help you find the best way to protect your family's property that also fits with your personal goals.

Who Can Sue?

Only the affected spouse, or the heirs of a deceased spouse, can bring such a lawsuit. For example, the in-laws cannot sue on behalf of their son or daughter while the son or daughter is still alive. However, intentional destruction of community property or fraud may be subject to criminal charges in addition to the spouse¿s personal lawsuit .

What Will Happen If I Win the Lawsuit?

The result of your California lawsuit will depend on the facts of your case:

  • If your spouse acted maliciously or fraudulently, then you can get 100% of the value of the property - meaning, your spouse's share of the property is forfeited to you as a penalty for bad behavior. If the property has been wasted or destroyed, this payment will be subject to your spouse's ability to pay you back.
  • If your spouse was reckless, meaning he or she failed to use reasonable caution in managing community property, you can get 50% of the value of the property that was taken from you, plus your attorney's fees.
  • Sometimes a title, like for a house or a car, is in the name of one spouse even though it is legally community property - the court can order the title to be changed to include the other spouse. This way, your spouse cannot easily sell the property without your permission.
  • If your spouse has already sold the property, you may be able to cancel the sale if you can prove the buyer knew that property belonged to both spouses.
  • Finally, if you are in the process of getting a divorce, the court may give you a larger share of the remaining community property to make up for what your spouse has wasted.

Should I Contact a Family Lawyer?

Even if you do not plan to get a divorce, you can still get help from a lawyer to protect your assets. A California family lawyer can help you identify the best way to solve your problems, and if necessary, can represent you in court. If you feel victimized by your spouses behavior, a lawyer can help you find the right ways to protect yourself.

Photo of page author Ken LaMance

, LegalMatch Law Library Managing Editor and Attorney at Law

Last Modified: 07-24-2014 11:02 AM PDT

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