Couple weren’t ‘separated’ if they still lived together

A wife decided that her marriage was over in 2006, but she didn’t actually move out of the house she shared with her husband until 2011. So does she have to share the assets she acquired between 2006 and 2011 with her husband?

Yes, according to the California Supreme Court.

This is an important issue, because many couples continue to live together for some time after their marriage is effectively over. They may do this to minimize the impact of a separation on the children, or because they’re not ready to announce to the world that their marriage has ended. Often, the reason is economic – one spouse simply can’t afford to move out.

But even if a couple are leading completely separate lives under the same roof – eating separately, sleeping separately and using different areas of the house – a divorce court may consider them not to be separated in the eyes of the law.

In the California case, the wife announced that she was done with the marriage in 2006, but didn’t move out. She filed for divorce at the very end of 2008, declaring a 2006 separation date. In response, the husband declared their separation date as early January 2009. The wife didn’t actually move out of the home until July 2011, at which point the husband changed his mind and listed that date as the date of separation.

The California Supreme Court ruled that the separation date was in fact July 2011 – which meant the husband could share in whatever assets the wife had accumulated up to that point.

This case involved an unusual California law, and of course each case depends on the specific facts involved. But the larger point is that if you feel your marriage is over and are contemplating divorce, it’s a good idea to talk to a lawyer about how your living arrangements may affect your rights.

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