I'll be getting married and living in CA, do personal property laws protect my assets that I've acquired prior to marriage? EG. partially paid for home, stocks, business, bank account?
Or do I need a prenup to do that?
2 Answers from Attorneys
Community property laws protect them as your separate property, but the same laws allow for them to become community property or subject to a community property reimbursement claim in the event of a divorce. For example if you keep that bank account open and put your paychecks in it and then spend money out of it, the law is not going to try to sort out which dollars are community property dollars (earnings during marriage are community property) and which are left over separate property dollars. It will all be declared community property. Similarly, if the payments on your partially paid home are now going to be paid with current income, the amount of principal paid down with your pay during the marriage will be owed back to the community in the event of divorce, but the community won't get an actual interest in the house. However, if you go to refinance, or if you sell that house and use the money to buy another house, together with your spouse on title, accounting for what portion of the new debt or house will be community and what will be separate can get very complicated. Even an awesome prenup can't remove all the unintended consequences of the interplay between community property law and family financial affairs over the years of a marriage, it can certainly help a lot.
Property you owned prior to marriage is your separate property. The status of your property does not automatically change by marrying. There are a number of mistakes you could make to convert you separate property to community property. Your safest course of action is to have an attorney prepare a prenuptial agreement.