Your marriage will officially end the day your divorce is finalized. However, your romantic relationship ended months, if not years earlier. While pinning down the exact day your marriage broke down isn’t always easy, it’s actually an important part of getting divorced in California.
State law requires you to identify your date of separation to proceed with the divorce process. Not only is it important for determining the length of your marriage, but it can also play an important role in awarding spousal support and dividing assets. Here’s why separation dates matter so much and how to identify yours correctly.
Why Does It Matter When Your Relationship Unofficially Ended?
Like many other complicated aspects of California divorce law, the importance of the date of separation can be traced back to state community property laws. In California, couples automatically receive true joint ownership of all assets each spouse earns or acquires during marriage. This includes income, bonuses, retirement benefits, investment gains, property purchased with marital funds, and debts.
Where California differs from most other states is how this joint property is divided during divorce. Community property laws require couples to split the total value of the marital assets equally unless both spouses consent to a different division. If they cannot come to an agreement, they can go to court and have a judge decide how to split their joint property in half.
The problem is that people continue to earn money and make purchases while going through a divorce. If all of these assets had to be considered during a contentious divorce, the couple might never make it out of court.
To address this issue, California instituted the date of separation. This is the day your relationship ended for the purposes of community property and asset division. State law defines community property as the assets acquired between your wedding day and your date of separation. While you are still legally married after your separation date, the money you earn and the things you purchase with it are automatically considered your separate property and exempt from asset division.
How California Defines the Date of Separation
According to state law, your date of separation is “the day when there’s a complete and final break of your marriage.” But what makes a break “complete” or “final” according to the law? It’s not enough to decide that you’re going to get divorced. You need to be able to support your claim in court.
The law defines the date of separation with two criteria: intention and action.
Your separation date is the day you inform your spouse you intend to end your relationship, or vice versa. You don’t necessarily have to ask for a divorce, either. You can demonstrate your intention with words or do something that makes it obvious you no longer want to be married, such as moving out. What matters is that you or your spouse does or says something indicating a complete break in your relationship.
This break in your relationship must also be final. As such, a day only counts as your separation date if one of you continues to act on your intention to end your marriage. This person does not need to be the same spouse who chose to end the relationship.
For example, if you ask for a divorce but reconcile later, that does not count as the date your relationship ended. In contrast, suppose your spouse moves out but tries to apologize later. Their move-out date will still count as your date of separation as long as you do not take them back. In that case, they demonstrated the initial intention to end your relationship, and your behavior is consistent with wanting to end your marriage.
Identifying Your Separation Date for Divorce
The difficulty of determining the day when the complete and final break occurred in your marriage varies. For some couples, it’s obvious. Potential evidence of a final break include:
- Serving your spouse divorce papers
- Moving out of the house or sleeping separately
- Halting intimate contact
- Opening separate bank accounts
- Updating your will
- Informing your kids that you’re getting a divorce
For example, California courts abide by the precedent set in Marriage of Manfer that even couples hiding their separation from the outside world are still officially separated if they no longer blend their funds, sleep apart, and do not seek counseling.
However, in other circumstances, the date you separated is less clear. Confounding factors include:
- Continuing to wear wedding rings
- Maintaining joint checking accounts
- Attempting to reconcile with each other
- Going on vacation together
- Making major financial acquisitions together
- Continuing conjugal relations
In cases like Marriage of von der Nuell, courts have confirmed that living separately is not enough to constitute a complete and final break if they continue to financially support each other, recognize relationship milestones, attempt to reconcile, or otherwise maintain emotional and financial ties.
If you and your spouse disagree on the date your relationship ended and there is a lack of strong evidence, the court will determine it for you. Its decision will take into account all of the factors listed above and more to determine whether your relationship ended when you filed for divorce or sometime earlier.
Determine Your Date of Separation With CC LawGroup
The day your relationship ended for good can shape the rest of your divorce. The best way to identify this date is to work with an experienced California divorce lawyer from CC LawGroup. Our experienced attorneys can help you understand state law and precedent and pinpoint the day things ended. Schedule your consultation today to learn more about how we can help you.