Dividing Your Business in California Divorce


Getting a divorce can be a challenging and emotional process, and for business owners in community property states like California, there can be some extra complexities to navigate. This article will explore the implications of divorce on businesses in California, covering important factors such as the classification of businesses as marital assets, the concept of community property, separate property, business valuation, and various methods of dividing business interests during a divorce.

Marital Assets and Community Property

In California, any asset or debt acquired during the marriage is generally considered “community property.” This includes businesses that were started or acquired during the marriage. Both spouses typically have an interest in the business, making it subject to even division during the divorce process.

Separate Property and Pre-existing Businesses

If one spouse owned the business before getting married, it may be considered “separate property.” In such cases, only the owning spouse has an ownership interest in the business, and it may not be entirely divided between the spouses during the divorce. However, the non-owning spouse may still have a claim to a portion of business assets or profits that were generated during the marriage.

Valuation of Business

Determining the value of a business is crucial during a divorce to ensure fair treatment of both parties. Hiring a financial professional to perform a proper valuation can be beneficial. Such experts can also provide valuable guidance during negotiations and identify potential issues that might affect the business’s value.

Tracing Separate and Community Interests

If a spouse establishes or acquires a business using separate funds, proper tracing must be done to apportion the separate property and community property interests accurately. Failure to perform an adequate tracing could lead to the presumption that the business investment is entirely community property. Additionally, any increase in the business’s value attributed to community skills, efforts, or industry is considered community property.

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Methods of Business Valuation

Business valuation can be done using three primary approaches: the asset approach, income approach, and market approach. The asset approach calculates the value by subtracting liabilities from assets. The income approach considers the profit or income generated by the business. The market approach compares the business to similar enterprises recently sold in the market.

Challenges of Dividing a Business

Dividing business interests can be particularly difficult, especially in states like California where both spouses have an equal stake in the business. Several possible outcomes exist for divorcing couples facing this situation:

Selling the Business and Splitting Proceeds Evenly

This may be the simplest solution, but it can also be the most challenging as it involves selling the business entirely.

One Spouse Buying Out the Other’s Share

If the business is doing well and one spouse wishes to continue running it, they may opt to buy out the other spouse’s share. However, this can be expensive, especially if the business carries significant debt.

Continuing to Run the Business Together

Although risky, some couples may choose to continue operating the business together to avoid losses from selling it. However, this option requires effective communication and cooperation between the spouses.

Fictional Scenarios Illustrating Possibilities

Two fictional divorce scenarios can help illustrate the different possibilities:

Joe and Mary

After ten years of marriage, Mary, who owns a successful software company, decides to sell the business, and the proceeds are divided evenly. This allows both spouses to walk away with some money and avoids conflicts over the company’s ownership.

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Bill and Sarah

After five years of marriage, Bill, who built a construction company from scratch, buys out Sarah’s share of the business to retain full control. Sarah, the stay-at-home mom, walks away with additional funds.


Dividing a business during a divorce can be a complex and challenging process, especially in community property states like California. Business owners need to carefully consider their options and seek professional guidance to ensure a fair and equitable resolution. No perfect solution exists, but understanding the intricacies involved can help make the process smoother for both parties.


  1. What is community property in California?Community property in California refers to assets or debts acquired during the marriage, including businesses started or acquired during that time. Both spouses typically have an equal interest in such property.
  2. Can a business owned before marriage be considered separate property?Yes, if one spouse owned the business before getting married, it may be considered separate property. However, the non-owning spouse might still have a claim to a portion of business assets or profits generated during the marriage.
  3. How is the value of a business determined during a divorce?The value of a business can be determined using various approaches, such as the asset approach, income approach, or market approach. Hiring a financial professional can ensure an accurate valuation.
  4. What are the options for dividing a business during a divorce?Dividing a business can involve selling the business and splitting the proceeds, one spouse buying out the other’s share, or continuing to run the business together.
  5. Is it essential to seek professional guidance during a business division in a divorce?Yes, seeking professional guidance from financial experts and divorce attorneys can help ensure a fair and smooth division of business interests and assets.
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