In California, all material property and debts are divided equally among the spouses or domestic partners who are separating through divorce. The only way equal division does not happen is if one of the spouses or partners agrees to an unequal share (which isn’t a wise thing to do) or if there is a set pre- or post-nuptial agreement or an intact marital agreement.
Many couples will work out the division of assets through mediation, but even if you have already decided how to equitably split your property, a judge must sign off on the agreement and issue a final order before community property becomes separate. Should the matter of asset division go to court, the judge in the case will decide the division for you and may not physically divide everything in half equally. Instead the judge will decide upon a roughly equal net share of the property, including debt, which can balance out someone receiving more property or intrinsic value.
One requirement for divorces and legal separations is filling out a Schedule of Assets and Debts form (Form FL-142), which the spouses will exchange with one another to disclose all assets to one another. This is how each partner will figure out what type of property it is, as well as the fair market value of each item. You must be honest and truthful when filling out the form, as hiding anything will usually come out sooner or later and the cost of having lied about it can result in very serious penalties. It also helps to find out if the case can be settled (because everyone agrees on the majority, if not all, of the property values, debts and distribution) so that the matter doesn’t have to go to trial.
One word of caution: Be careful when dividing debts, as if something like a credit card is in your name and your spouse or partner defaults on the agreement to pay that debt as part of the settlement, the creditors can still come after you, the signatory.