While most people view marriage and divorce as primarily personal and private matters, they are important legal statuses that state governments regulate. For instance, California has laws prohibiting bigamy, marriage between close blood relatives, and marriage with a minor. But, why is the state so concerned about the relationship between two people?
Marriage is not only a special relationship between two adults, but it is also a social institution that traditionally serves as the cornerstone for starting a family. The government grants married couples various tax benefits and legal privileges. Marriage also gives rise to certain legal duties between the couple. As a result, the state has an interest in keeping track and regulating marriage as well as its termination.
In California, the two most important dates in a divorce case are your wedding date and the date of separation. Why is this? Because marriage gives rise to specific legal duties and rights—such as joint ownership of property and spousal support—establishing the date of separation is essential for determining the extent of those duties and rights after divorce.
What Is the Date of Separation?
When California courts address issues regarding the date of separation, they look at whether the couple lived in separate residences and ceased all marital relations with no reasonable expectation of reconciliation. A situation where one spouse sleeps on the couch after a fight usually won’t be enough to set the date of separation. The separation must have a more permanent character.
In some marriages, the couple had been living separately for years before filing for divorce. Such situations illustrate the importance of the couple’s date of separation for divorce cases, regardless of when the parties filed for divorce.
To establish the date of separation in a divorce case, the parties should submit evidence to the court to show that the parties lived in different residences. Such evidence includes mail with separate residential addresses, rental applications, and payment records. Furthermore, a sworn statement that the parties ceased marital relations (sexual intercourse) should also be submitted to the court.
Date of Separation for Community Property Issues
The date of separation is crucial because it sets the scope for determining property rights in a divorce. California uses the community property system of property division in divorce cases. Both spouses are entitled to an equal share of community property assets upon divorce. All property acquired during a marriage is considered to be community property, absent a showing that the asset in question qualifies as the party’s separate property. Property a party received before marriage and after the parties’ date of separation is considered to be their separate property.
Some states limit community property—or “marital property” in states that use the equitable distribution system instead of community property—to property acquired after the beginning of marriage and before the divorce. However, California law consistently restricts a married couple’s joint ownership rights to property according to the period where they lived together as a married couple.
Date of Separation for Spousal Support Issues
Another duty that arises from marriage is the duty for spouses to provide sufficient financial support for one another. This duty serves as the basis for courts to issue spousal support payments. Spousal support is designed to allow the parties to maintain a standard of living set during the marriage. The duration of a spousal support obligation depends on how long the marriage existed. A marriage that lasted for ten years or more will likely implicate an indefinite spousal support obligation. Short-term marriages will justify a spousal support award for a more limited duration.
Speak to a Qualified Attorney at Hanson, Gorian, Bradford & Hanich
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