How to Calculate Separate Property and Community Property Specifically for Real Estate in a Divorce

Depending on how long your marriage lasted, you could have a significant number of financial entanglements. Many couples buy at least one home over the course of their marriage, which might be funded with personal savings, community funds, inheritances or other gifts.

When it’s time to separate your finances, you may need a forensic accountant to ferret out your sole and separate property contributions during a divorce.

Here’s a closer look at how this can be calculated.

What is community property?

In community property states, any income generated during the marriage—by either party—is considered community property. Keeping your funds in separate bank accounts doesn’t matter: As long as you’re contributing to real estate with community funds, that portion of the property is considered community property.

This can get tricky when one of you owned a home before marriage or contributed separate property funds to a community purchase. The only way you can keep an asset completely separate is to avoid commingling it with community funds or property.

Note that community property is not like equitable division of property, which can be used in other states. The difference between equitable division of property and community property is that equitable division relies on fair distribution, rather than separate and community property classes.

What is separate property?

Separate property is what you come into the marriage with and what you receive after the date of separation. It may also extend to inheritances (including real estate and cash). To keep your property sole and separate during a divorce, you will have to be very careful about not using community funds to maintain that asset.

Calculating separate property

There are two different ways separate property can be identified, even if you’ve commingled your funds. The direct tracing method is one way to do this: You might be able to dig up bank statements that show your separate property account was used to maintain the home, for example. You may be entitled to a reimbursement, as long as you did not waive your right to reimbursement in writing.

With the exhaustion method (also known as the “family expense presumption method”), you’d need to prove that there were no community funds available for a real estate purchase; therefore, the only way to pay for that asset is through your separate property. The idea is a presumption that community funds are used to pay for community expenses first. This includes anything from food, transportation and clothing to utility bills and family vacations.

Hire a forensic accountant

As you can imagine, digging through years of financial records can be extremely time-consuming. If you have significant separate assets, it’s worth working with a forensic accountant. A good accountant can identify the sole and separate property during divorce. This helps ensure that your separate property is protected, even when you live in a community property state.

To learn more about calculating separate property, get in touch with Medina & Company Consulting. Our forensic accountants are waiting to assist you.