California Court Holds Judgment of Legal Separation Establishes Date of Separation

2010-1244710-m.jpgDivorce is often an emotionally difficult process for all family members involved. For this reason, choosing to separate and divide up a family is usually the result of much thought and consideration on behalf of the spouses. But once the decision is made, the parties must take very seriously the myriad legal and financial implications in order to adequately protect their rights. Something as simple as the date of a court’s judgment of legal separation can have a wide-ranging impact on each spouse’s financial situation going forward. In order to understand how California’s family code and other applicable laws and rules can affect your case, it is important to contact a local San Diego family law attorney as soon as possible.

In a recent divorce case, Pearl v. Gerber, the parties argued over the date of separation for purposes of determining the length of the marriage. Under California law, the date of separation is significant for a variety of reasons. For one, it is the date after which the earnings or accumulations of each party are deemed the “separate property” of the person acquiring the earnings or accumulations. This means that anything a spouse earns after the date of separation is not considered community property and is therefore not subject to division. Additionally, the date of separation is important when determining the length of a marriage for purposes of calculating the amount of spousal support. Both issues can have a dramatic impact on the respective financial rights of the parties.

In this case, the couple got married in August 2010. Surprisingly enough, the husband moved out in October 2010. In March 2011, the wife filed for legal separation. In February 2012, the court entered a default judgment of legal separation. Under the judgment, the husband was required to pay the wife $1,250 in monthly spousal support and to continue to provide her (and her daughter) with health insurance. While the couple reconciled in September 2012, the wife decided to end the marriage in April 2013. In June 2013, the husband sought to modify spousal support, requesting that it terminate at the end of that year. At the hearing, both parties testified that neither of them intended to end their marriage at least until April 2013.

The court concluded that the judgment of legal separation was “not definitive” as far as deciding the date of separation. The court pointed to the “unusual” nature of the relationship and the circumstances surrounding the marriage. The court found that the marriage lasted for two years and eight months (from August 2010 through April 2013) and ordered the husband to pay $2,750 in monthly spousal support (through August 2, 2014) based in part on the length of the marriage. The husband appealed.

The court of appeals reversed, finding that a judgment of legal separation is “res judicata” on the issue of the date of separation. Therefore, the lower court lacked the discretion to find that the date of separation occurred on any other date after the judgment was entered. If the husband wanted to modify the support order, he would have to provide a showing of “changed circumstances” in accordance with California law. This case is a good example of the challenges parties often face when considering a divorce or legal separation. While it is an unpublished opinion, the court’s reasoning may serve to inform future cases in this jurisdiction.

Issues pertaining to legal separation and divorce require strict attention to detail and the applicable law. If you are considering divorce, you are encouraged to contact a local, experienced family law attorney. Roy M. Doppelt is a family law attorney representing spouses and ex-spouses for more than 20 years in Southern California. Our office serves clients throughout Southern California. For a free consultation with a dedicated and experienced family lawyer, contact Doppelt & Forney through the law firm’s website or give us a call toll-free at (800) ROY IS IT (769-4748).

Related Blog Posts:

Spouse Seeking Legal Separation Should Pay Close Attention to Filing Date

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California Family Law Guides Courts in Ordering Spousal Support