During your years of marriage, you and your spouse will acquire assets and property together. Like most couples, you may own a home, bank accounts, retirement accounts and vehicles. You may even have a business started during your marriage. As you go through the divorce process, a court will split these possessions between the two of you.

But what about property that you consider yours alone? You may have possessions that you brought into the marriage or received separately from your spouse. Will you need to divide these assets as well? The answer may depend on how you used them during your marriage.

Community vs. shared property

In a California divorce, courts distinguish possessions as community property or separate property. Community property is any income or asset earned during the marriage. The law considers it to be the equal property of both spouses and will divide it down the middle. Once the division is over, each spouse will have an equal share of all community property.

Any property considered separate stays with the original owner. Examples of these assets may include real estate that one spouse purchased before marriage or an inheritance one spouse received. During the divorce proceedings, the court will not consider these as divisible.

Commingling puts your separate property at risk

However, keeping your property separate isn’t always as easy as tracking the original owner. If you commingle your separate and community property, it may be up for division. For example, if you mix your inheritance with a joint account, it may become difficult to distinguish the percentage that is still yours. If you and your spouse continue to contribute and spend from that same account, then the inheritance may turn into community property.

Having separate property can protect from financial struggles

Divorce can take a serious toll on your finances. After it’s over, you and your spouse will each walk away with only half of what you used to own. You also will no longer have two combined incomes to rely on.

During this stressful time, having your own property can ensure you don’t have to struggle. Ensuring your separate property stays separate can help you recover from the financial blow of property division. To do this, you may want to ensure that all accounts and deeds are only in your name. Or a prenuptial agreement can help you determine what stays separate in a divorce.

With proper planning, you can ensure that you can rely on your separate property after divorce.