If you have separated from your spouse in California, then are important aspects of divorce law that you need to be aware of with regard to how you split your finances. Essentially, once you are separated, California law will treat you and your spouse as more-or-less independent financial entities from one another, similar to the way you were before you were married. Which means that continuing to conduct your finances as a married couple can mean financial trouble for you that may not be easily reserved down the line.
What is “Separated” in California?
First off, understanding the legal definition of being separated in California is critical. The date of separation in California law is the day that you and your spouse decided to end the marriage, even if it was only one of you that decided this. It is not the day that you decided to consider the possibility of divorce or even moved out; again, it is the day that at least one spouse made the final decision that the marriage was ending and that a divorce should be sought. For purposes of a divorce, it will be helpful to have at least some evidence of this date, such as an email or signed document.
Why is the Date of Separation Important?
This date is important because that is the day that California will look at you and your spouse as no longer being a marital unity for financial purposes. Up until that date, every dollar that either one of you earned during the marriage belonged to you both equally (absent a prenuptial agreement) to be split as community property in a divorce. After that date, income earned and property received by a spouse will belong solely to that spouse after a divorce.
How This Affects Your Finances
California divorce law principles thus have profound effects on the finances of a couple after they separate until the time they obtain a final divorce order. What this really means is that both spouses should be careful to keep track of their expenses and specifically whether they are using community resources (income/assets earned and acquired during the marriage) or their personal, separate property to pay those expenses. For example, it is improper for one spouse to pay off his student loan in its entirety using community property funds (although he is free to do whatever he wishes with his separate property), and, if he does, he should be required to reimburse the community for the money he used.
The simplest way to approach this would be for each spouse to only use separate property (money earned before the marriage or after the date of separation) to pay expenses during this period, thus freezing community assets to be divided during the divorce. This can of course get complicated quickly where separate funds are limited or where one spouse will not play by the rules.
Because of this (among other reasons), it is important for a spouse to begin working with an experienced California family law attorney as soon as possible (even before the date of separation in some cases) to make sure that his or her financial interests are honored and protected both during the separation and after the divorce.
Experienced Representation in Your California Divorce
At Kearney | Baker, our Pasadena family law attorneys have 60 years of combined experience in reaching positive outcomes on behalf of our clients in divorce matters. Contact us today to schedule a consultation to discuss your circumstances.