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Why the Date of Separation Matters in California Divorces

When do marriages end? That’s a complicated question, even when emotions are removed from the equation. Obviously, a couple’s married life begins on the date their marriage certificate is signed. However, two possible dates could legally be considered the end of a marriage.

The first is simple: it’s the day the divorce is finalized, and the decree is issued. This is the day when the marriage officially ends and the spouses are declared legally single again. 

However, there’s another, earlier date that’s just as important. This is the date of separation, and it will shape the rest of the divorce process. Understanding the date of separation is crucial to following how asset division is managed during your split.

What Is the Date of Separation?

Finalizing your divorce is the last step in a much longer process. Any process that has an end also has a beginning. This is the date of separation, the day when one spouse makes it clear they no longer want to be married. 

This indication often occurs during a conversation, but not always. While verbal or written communication is useful for identifying the exact date, it is possible to indicate that you want to end your relationship without talking about it. In that case, it is often set as the day you filed for divorce. 

However, your behavior can also demonstrate a desire to end your marriage before you file. For example, moving out is a strong sign that you no longer want to be romantically involved with your spouse. If there isn’t an obvious day your marriage broke down for good, you will need to determine one to proceed with your split. 

Why the Date of Separation Matters for Divorce

California has strict community property laws that make a specific separation date important. Under these laws, both spouses have the right to half of all marital property, which includes income earned during the marriage. The problem is that this property will continue to accrue during the divorce process. If all assets a couple acquires during this period had to be considered for asset division, it would significantly complicate the process. 

Separation dates resolve this problem. Under California law, this is the day when marital property stops accruing. Even if one spouse’s income is deposited in a joint account after that day, it is still considered their separate property. 

As a result, the exact day you separated can make a significant difference to your final settlement. For example, if you separated in November but didn’t file for divorce until January, any end-of-year bonuses would be the sole property of the spouse who earned them. However, if you separated in January, those bonuses would be joint property and eligible for division. 

This also applies to debts. If one spouse accrues debts after the date of separation, the obligations may be their sole responsibility. However, debts acquired while living as a couple are jointly held and may be split in your divorce settlement.

Finally, the date you separated also determines the length of your marriage. If you begin living separately a long time before you file for divorce, it may impact a judge’s decision regarding spousal support. Longer marriages are more likely to lead to spousal support orders, while shorter marriages may not warrant them. When a specific separation date is unclear, you may benefit from arguing that it was earlier or later, depending on your circumstances.

How Is the Date of Separation Determined?

Just declaring that you want a divorce isn’t enough to count as your separation date. If you said that in the heat of the moment and then later made up and continued to live as spouses, you did not actually separate. Two factors are required to identify the separation date: intention and action.

  • Intention: One person lets the other know through words or actions that they want to end the marriage. For example, you might tell your spouse you want a divorce or move out of your joint home.
  • Action: After the intention to end the relationship is made clear, either spouse behaves in a way consistent with that intent. This does not need to be the same person who initiated the split. If your spouse asks for a divorce and you move out or otherwise stop living like you’re married, it doesn’t matter if they attempt to repair your relationship. The day they asked for a divorce still counts as your separation date.

Intention needs to be supported by action and vice versa if you want your separation date to be earlier than the day you filed your petition. Behavior that would support a day as your separation date includes:

  • Filing your petition for dissolution of marriage with the court
  • Mutually agreeing with your spouse to get a divorce soon, even if you don’t immediately file
  • Moving out, sleeping in separate bedrooms, or otherwise beginning to live separately
  • Separating your bank accounts and finances
  • Dating other people

Determining the exact separation day can become complicated if you don’t explicitly request a divorce, though. Many couples keep separate bank accounts or live in different places and remain happily married. The best way to identify and prove an accurate day is to work with an experienced California divorce attorney.The professionals at Kaspar & Lugay, LLP, are available to help. Our Marin County divorce lawyers have years of experience helping couples navigate the complexities of dates of separation in their splits. We can help you prove your separation date and support your claims for asset division and spousal support. Schedule your consultation with our world-class attorneys to discover more about how we can support you through even the most complex divorce.