Equitable distribution is observed by most states. What that means, is that any property acquired during the marriage is deemed as belonging to the spouse who earned the income necessary to acquire it. In the event both spouses contributed equally to the acquisition, the division is fairly straightforward. However, there can be variations. In most cases, one spouse will earn far more than the other—or income is split with one spouse paying for the mortgage and property taxes, whereas the other covers household expenses. Does the spouse who paid for the groceries, then, miss out on the matrimonial home? Would a full-time caregiver to children lose out on property because the other spouse earned the money to acquire it? There IS value placed on childcare and running the household. Divorce laws, together with the courts work all that stuff out on an individual basis.
Of course, in California you don't have to worry about equitable distribution. That's because California is one of the minority states that observes community property.
As the term implies, monies and assets are pretty much split down the middle, regardless of who paid for what. Even if one spouse brought equity into the relationship and did most of the income earning to acquire property and assets within the marriage, the non-earning spouse may have an equal stake in everything.
It goes for debts, too. One spouse may loathe borrowing a dime for anything, while the other goes through credit cards like water. Guess what? The thrifty spouse owns half that debt, too.
The myriad of issues related to a divorce proceeding can make your head spin, regardless of state: common law marriage, child support laws—the list goes on. And that's outside of issues related to division of property. Family law attorneys can help guide you through the maze. Beyond that, it's good to be aware of the primary thrust of divorce laws in the state of California when it comes to division of property, so you'll know what to expect in the unlikely event your marriage breaks down. And in California, divorce laws are based on the community property model.