Bright Line Rule on “Date of Separation”
The “date of separation” is a pivotal issue in many California divorce cases. This date signifies the end of the community estate. It is used to determine everything from the characterization of community and separate property assets and debts to determination of the length of the parties’ marriage to determination of the length required for the payment of spousal support. It also develops a date to utilize for the calculation of the entitlement to reimbursements for payment of community expenses. It is an extremely important question and is often one of the most hotly contested issues in California divorce cases.
For the past 65 years, there has been much to argue about on this issue in any particular case. Determination had been determined largely on the interplay of various intentions, communications, facts and circumstances, unique to each case. Parties who lived under the same roof could still be “separated” under the prior case law just as parties who have lived in separate homes, sometimes for years, could still be deemed not to have separated. The determination in each case was unique to the facts and circumstances of each case and the flexibility provided for fairness.
Not anymore. The California Supreme Court just radically changed the landscape surrounding this issue. In re Marriage of Davis (2015) 61 Cal.4th 846 established a public policy bright-line rule requiring two people to actually cease living under the same roof in order to be considered living “separate and apart”. While the intention may be to simplify things and give clarity to a confusing issue, it may likely have the opposite result.
People at the end of their marriages feel trapped in many directions and are facing a great deal of uncertainty. A bright line rule on an issue with such importance may prove to be quite limiting in a time that already feels very hopeless. At first blush, having a clear rule may avoid the “he said, she said” that confounds lawyers and judges, making their jobs easier. However, it can only create more confusion and stress for family law litigants or those contemplating a divorce. How will this rule impact parties who cannot afford to move out, especially with young children? In order to file a Dissolution (e.g. divorce) in the State of California, the Petitioner must allege the date of separation. Do we now require that a person must move out of the home before filing for divorce?
I can’t even begin to imagine the strangulation effect this will have on stay at home mothers or disabled spouses who do not have the means to move out and must petition the court for the funds to do so. The time period between the decision one makes to leave his or her spouse and the time the Court first makes interim orders to protect the parties can already seem like an eternity. I have no doubt that the Davis decision will only add further complexity and stress during this period of transition and may create problems in its practical application to the realities of contemporary families.
Incline Law Group’s Family Law attorneys can help you navigate the application of this bright line rule and related issues.