Category Archives: Legal Separation

Date of Separation: Changes to the California Family Code

Date of Separation: Changes to the California Family Code

A couple’s wedding day is an important date to remember. If the marriage ends in divorce, then the date the couple actually split is also significant. In fact, the California Family Code contains provisions about the date of separation. However, that code changed significantly in 2017.

What is the date of separation?

This might seem like a simple term, but the legal meaning can be complicated. The new California Family Code Section 70 states:

70.(a)  “Date of separation” means the date that a complete and final break in the marital relationship has occurred, as evidenced by both of the following:

(1) The spouse has expressed to the other spouse his or her intent to end the marriage.

(2) The conduct of the spouse is consistent with his or her intent to end the marriage.

For example, Ted tells Mary he wants a divorce on December 12, 2018. However, they continue living together, share bank accounts, and even plan their annual vacation to Hawaii. A court will consider all relevant evidence when determining the legal date of separation. A judge may decide Ted and Mary had not satisfied both (1) and (2) noted above on December 12, 2018.

Why is the date of separation important?

It is the date beyond which a married couple’s income, debts, and so become separate property.

For example, still considering Ted and Mary, Ted gets a huge windfall on December 13, 2018. During the divorce proceedings, he claims it is his separate property because the date of separation was December 12. Prior to the change in 2017, a court may not agree with Ted, since Ted and Mary did not meet the “living separate and part” requirement.

How and why did the law change?

In 2015, the California Supreme Court handed down a decision in a divorce matter titled In re Marriage of Davis. The decision stated that spouses must be living in separate homes for the date of separation to apply.

However, on July 25, 2016, a bill was signed into law that countered that decision. Section 70 was added to the California Family Code, clarifying that date of separation was to be decided using the tests mentioned earlier in this article.

Let’s consider a different scenario for Ted and Mary. Ted does tell Mary he wants a divorce on December 12, 2018. He remains in the home but separates his financial and personal matters from Mary. From that point on, they behaved more like roommates than husband and wife. A court may consider December 12 to be their legal date of separation.

Simple terms may have unwanted consequences

The legal date of separation can make a huge difference in how your divorce plays out. Talk to an attorney about your divorce as soon as possible.

Judy Burger is a California Certified Family Law Specialist, and founder of the Law Offices of Judy L. Burger. Please call our offices at 415-293-8314 to set up an appointment with one of our attorneys. We assist clients along the Northern to Central California Coast.

Legal Separation Under California Law

Legal Separation Under California Law

Daria met with her attorney, fully intending to file divorce as soon as possible. She and her estranged husband were both confused about whether to end their marriage or try to patch things up. They were also deeply concerned about their two children. As Daria spoke with her attorney, she learned more about divorce and legal separation under California law. She decided to weigh her options carefully to see which fit her situation better.


Some states do not recognize legal separation. California is one of the states that does allow legal separation of a married couple. In fact, filing a divorce petition and a legal separation are essentially the same process. A couple going through a legal separation, as with a divorce, may negotiate separation of community assets and debts, a parenting plan if they have children, spousal support, and child support arrangements. 

One reason for Daria to choose a legal separation involves the California residency requirement. To file a divorce, either spouse must have lived in California for the past six months AND have lived in the county where the divorce will be file for the past three months. An individual who wants to file for legal separation is not bound by the residency requirement.

If Daria chooses to file a legal separation under California law, she will need to take these steps:

  • File a petition with the appropriate court asking for a legal separation.
  • Serve a copy of the petition on her spouse and file a proof of service with the clerk.
  • Since she and her spouse have children, she will file a copy of the petition with the local child support agency.
  • Daria’s spouse has 30 days to answer the petition for legal separation. What happens next depends on how the spouse responded. The couple may engage in discovery or meet with a mediator if necessary.
  • If they reach an agreement, they may each be required to prepare and serve a final Declaration of Disclosure.
  • The Judge will issue an order finalizing the separation.

Note that a legally-separated couple are still married to each other and cannot marry anyone else. Also, under California law, the parties involved in a legal separation proceeding may convert the separation to a divorce at any time.

Not Sure Whether to File for Legal Separation or Dissolution?

The attorneys at the Law Offices of Judy L. Burger are experienced at all phases of divorce proceedings. Call us at 415-293-8314 to schedule a private appointment or visit our website. We maintain offices in San Francisco, Marin County, Santa Barbara, Ventura/Oxnard, San Jose, Gold River (Sacramento), and surrounding communities. Our new Beverly Hills office is opening soon.
The Difference Between Legal Separation and Divorce

The Difference Between Legal Separation and Divorce

Sometimes two things are similar, but not quite the same. For example, divorce and legal separation both involve major changes to marital relationship. Yet there are some distinct differences between divorce and legal separation. Before deciding which is right for you, you’ll need to consider several factors.

Marital Status

One difference between a separation and a divorce proceeding is that a legal separation does not seek termination of the marriage. Divorce does.

In a legal separation, the parties remain married. Neither can remarry. Remarriage is an option for divorced couples, although it may affect spousal support and social security benefits.

People who remain legally separated may be eligible for:

  • greater social security benefits at retirement (depending on other factors);
  • health insurance benefits;
  • tax benefits enjoyed by filing jointly; and
  • some military benefits.

A divorced spouse may lose benefits as soon as the divorce is final.


The parties still divide up marital and community property and debts whether they are divorcing or legally separating.

Just living apart may not be enough. Couples may remain liable for each other’s debts and legal problems unless they formally separate. A legal separation agreement may provide some protection while spelling out each party’s responsibilities when it comes to financial obligations.

In a divorce proceeding, the final divorce settlement shows a clear division of assets and debts.

Residency Requirements

The party filing for divorce must be California residents for at least six months before filing. In addition, the party must live in the county in which they filed for at least three months.  People who do not meet that residency requirement mays file for legal separation instead. The legal separation can be changed to a divorce proceeding at a later date.

Other Factors to Consider.

A legal separation goes into effect as soon as the paperwork is filed. A divorce, however, may take at least six months from filing the petition to signing the final divorce settlement. For couples who need some space, but not a complete end to the marriage, a legal separation might be best.

Also, sometimes a legal separation fits the couple’s religious beliefs better than a divorce. The couple don’t completely break their marriage vows, which may satisfy family and church leaders. However, the parties are spared the ordeal of living together.

Need Help Deciding Whether to Divorce or Legally Separate?

Find out about whether to terminate your marriage or just put it on hold.

To discuss the particulars of your situation, please call us at 415-293-8314. The attorneys at the Law Offices of Judy L. Burger assist clients in San Francisco, Marin County, Santa Barbara, Ventura/Oxnard, San Jose, Gold River (Sacramento), Roseville, and surrounding communities.

Pros and Cons of Default Judgment in Divorce

When a relationship does not stand the test of time, the people who once were a couple need to become individuals again. In California, this can sometimes be accomplished through the use of a default judgment for divorce. In a default judgment, one partner completes paperwork to have the court enter a divorce judgment and the other individual does not contest the divorce. In this type of default, the parties agree on the settlement provisions. As a result, the court is able to simply enter a default judgment.

A default judgment is sometimes the simplest and easiest method of having a divorce completed. It is usually less costly than litigation. However, there are both pros and cons to this method of ending a marriage.

Sometimes the people who are divorcing decide that having a default judgment is the method they want to use for divorcing, so they agree beforehand on how they want the divorce to be structured and bring that in for the entry of judgment. This allows them to have the ease of a default judgment and still ensure that their collective property is separated in the method they prefer.

However, there are many potential cons in using a default judgment in a divorce case, and using this method is not always appropriate. A default judgment should not be used if the parties are not in agreement about the distribution of the marital estate, if there is a situation of abuse of one partner by the other, or if the parties do not have a full understanding of the legal implications of the divorce. It is important for both parties to also understand that the party who is not initiating the divorce, also known as the respondent, is giving up his or her right to contest the court’s decision if no response is made.

Perhaps most important, however, is that failing to obtain the advice of an experienced California divorce attorney can result in giving up rights that a spouse may not even know he or she has, all in the name of “getting along.”

If you want to learn more about whether a default divorce might compromise your future, or that of your children, contact the attorneys at the Law Offices of Judy L. Burger. We can help. Call us today to make an appointment: (415) 293-8314.
New Law in California Addresses Date of Separation

New Law in California Addresses Date of Separation

When a marriage or domestic partnership fails, the parties are immediately confronted with a number of issues, not the least of which is how to separate physically. Typically, there is an initial intimate separation that then morphs into a physical separation.

Separating physically, however, is not that easy for many couples because of issues like finances and children. Couples advancing toward divorce sometimes choose to continue living under the same roof while they get their affairs in order before finally divorcing. Until recently, separated couples in California had to actually live in separate residences to have their post-separation finances considered as separate.

The rule had been handed down in 2015 by the California Supreme Court in a case called In re Marriage of Davis. In that case, the couple had been living in the marital home pending their divorce, although they were functioning as individuals. For example, their finances were handled separately, they travelled to children’s events separately, and they each did their own laundry. Notwithstanding their living separate lives, the Court ruled that an indispensible component of a married couple being separated under the eyes of the law was living in separate residences.

The legislature took umbrage with this ruling and passed Senate Bill 1255, which took effect January 1, 2017. This bill amended the California Family Code, specifying two grounds on which the date of marital separation could be established: 1) One spouse has expressed to the other spouse his or her intent to end the marriage; and 2) the conduct of that spouse is consistent with his or her intent to end the marriage. The bill also provided that courts “shall take into consideration all relevant evidence” to establish the date of separation.

The new law provides more flexibility to couples who decide to end their marriages. It is a much more sensible way of respecting the decisions that those couples make as they navigate such a significant upheaval in their lives.

When Are You Considered by California Courts to Be “Separated”?

When Are You Considered by California Courts to Be “Separated”?

One of the most hotly contested issues in many divorce proceedings—the date of separation— drives when the partners to marriage can claim their respective incomes as separate property. This is a vitally important question that can substantially change each person’s financial standing well into the future.

California Family Code § 760 provides that property acquired during a marriage is considered community property that is subject to equitable distribution in a divorce unless another law provides otherwise. One major exception to this conglomeration of community property applies after the spouses are separated. This exception is located in California Family Code § 771.

Last year, the California Supreme Court considered whether a couple could be considered separate even though they were living in the same house. In the case, the couple was married in 1993 and had two kids during the 1990s. They stayed together but at some point started sleeping in separate bedrooms. There were also several other indicators of their separateness, such as the following:

  • driving separately to their children’s activities;
  • the husband washing his own laundry; and
  • the separation of their financial affairs.

Despite these indicators, the two continued to live together. The wife received her mail and telephone calls at the couple’s home, and she did not change the address on her driver’s license.

The wife argued that the two had been functioning as roommates and were separated as of 2006 despite continuing to live together. The husband argued that they did not truly separate until much later, in 2011. The trial court agreed with the wife and found the date of separation to be 2006. The court of appeals affirmed, and the husband filed an appeal.

The California Supreme Court first considered the language of the law regarding the date of separation as it related to a claim of separate property: “[t]he earnings and accumulations of a spouse . . ., while living separate and apart from the other spouse, are the separate property of the spouse.” The court determined that the plain meaning of this language seemed to require the “occupation of separate residences.”

The court also considered the legislative history of the law and later legislative developments. The court ultimately held that a couple was not considered to be living separate and apart unless two conditions were met: (1) they were living in separate residences; and (2) at least one of the partners had a “subjective intent to end the marital relationship” that was “objectively evidenced by words or conduct.”

If you need an experienced California family lawyer to discuss the particulars of your situation, contact the Law Offices of Judy L. Burger. We have decades of experience in family law matters, and we will put our experience to work for you. Call (415) 259-6636 to get started today.
California Supreme Court: Can a Couple Living in the Same Home Be Considered "Living Separate and Apart"?

California Supreme Court: Can a Couple Living in the Same Home Be Considered “Living Separate and Apart”?

Couples who are separated and making their way toward divorce sometimes continue to live in the same home. It is not too hard to imagine reasons why this would happen. Finances are a key consideration.

Many couples struggle to make ends meet keeping just one household. A sudden need to maintain two (on the same amount of money) can be pretty daunting. Children are a second reason that separating couples often continue to live in the same home. Divorce is hard on children, and sometimes a more gradual approach to the physical separation of the parents can be in their best interest.

The problem with continuing to live in the same house after deciding to “separate” is that the separation date plays a huge role in the division of marital assets when a divorce actually occurs. Once a legally recognized separation takes place, the parties begin accumulating separate assets to which the other party has no legal right. This is true whether there is a legal separation granted by the court or whether the parties simply separate on their own.

Continuing to live in the same home confounds the question of whether the couple is separated. A recent case decided by the California Supreme Court answered this question, at least for the particular circumstances of that case. In Marriage of Davis, the Court concluded that the couple were not living separate and apart until the wife moved out of the house. Initially, both parties stated that they were living separate and apart even while still in the house together, but later the husband claimed the separation did not occur until his wife moved out.

Some may view the Court’s decision as establishing a bright line rule that continuing to live in the same house defeats the notion of living separate and apart. This is not the case. The Court determined that in this set of circumstances, the couple was not considered as living separate and apart while under the same roof. It left open the door for a subsequent determination that a couple could show that they “had established separate residences  . . . even though they continued to literally share one roof.”

If you are contemplating divorce, you will need advice early in the process, especially on the issue of living separate and apart. Judy L. Burger is an aggressive, knowledgeable lawyer who has extensive experience in high conflict divorces in California. Contact her today at (415) 293-8314 to discuss your case.
Legal Grounds for a California Divorce or Separation

Legal Grounds for a California Divorce or Separation

California is a “no fault” divorce state. In fact, it was the first state to enact a no fault basis for divorce in 1969. Prior to this change, California state law listed specific faults that, if committed by one of the parties, would be grounds for divorce. These included things such as adultery, extreme cruelty, habitual intemperance, and a number of others. Following enactment of California’s no fault basis, every other state eventually followed suit.

Under our no fault approach, there are only two grounds for divorce and legal separation in California: 1) irreconcilable differences, and 2) permanent legal incapacity to make decisions. Nearly every divorce is filed on grounds of irreconcilable differences. This allows a party to a marriage to pursue a divorce even if her spouse wants to stay married. According to Merriam Webster, irreconcilable means “so different that agreement is not possible.” In a marriage, then, at least one party must believe that agreement on the differences is not possible. Even if the other party states a willingness to agree on differences, they are still irreconcilable if the party of the first part maintains his position.

In the divorce proceeding, the party filing for divorce simply has to tell the court that the marriage needs to be dissolved because there are irreconcilable differences. While the differences are put into the record, no proof of their existence needs to be established. The court just needs to know that one of the parties considers there to be differences, and that they are irreconcilable. The court does have the authority to evaluate each case to reach a conclusion that reconciliation is not possible. In situations where a judge believes reconciliation is possible, he may continue the proceedings for 30 days to see if the parties will reconcile.

Before a divorce petition may be filed, there are residency requirements that must be fulfilled. At least one of the parties must have been a resident of California for six month, and a resident of the county of filing for the immediately preceding three months. If the requirements are not met, the court may refuse to accept the case or will dismiss it when the defect is discovered.

The breakup of a marriage is a difficult life event for both spouses. The attorneys at The Law Offices of Judy L. Burger have extensive experience in divorce matters. Call today to learn how our attorneys can help you and your family: (415) 298-8314.
What Is the Difference Between Divorce and Legal Separation in California?

What Is the Difference Between Divorce and Legal Separation in California?

Often, our clients ask about the difference between divorce and legal separation. The essential difference is that divorce is a final action, but a legal separation is not. In a separation, the parties remain married.

This begs the question: Why obtain a separation if you are still married? There are several reasons that legal separation may be an attractive option, including more beneficial residency requirements, the possible retention of certain benefits, and its immediate effect.

One reason a person may wish to pursue a legal separation rather than a divorce is because of the restrictive residency requirements placed on divorce. California law requires that, before a divorce petition may be filed, at least one of the parties must have lived in the state for at least six months; in addition, the person filing the petition must have lived in the county of filing for at least three months.

There are no state or county residency prerequisites for a legal separation. Therefore, a person who wishes to take immediate action may file for a legal separation, then amend the petition to request a divorce after the residency requirements were met. This option would be particularly helpful for someone who wants to obtain quick court rulings on matters such as property division; child, spousal, or domestic partner support; or child visitation. These things may all be adjudicated in a legal separation proceeding, just as they may in an action for a divorce.

Legal separation may also be a valuable option because it sometimes allows the parties to retain benefits that they might lose in a divorce. Some examples of these of benefits are as follows:

  • Allowing the parties to stay within religious restrictions against divorce;
  • Allowing the parties to keep health care or other insurance coverage that would be lost due to a divorce;
  • Permitting one of the parties to retain immigration status; and
  • Enabling the parties to obtain the requisite 10 years of marriage to qualify for Social Security spousal survivor benefits.

Legal separation also has some common-sense advantage for those who are not sure they wish to pursue the finality of a judgment of divorce. That is because legal separations can allow the parties to separate on a trial basis, giving them both the ability to see how they will do financially and emotionally before pursuing a legal end to their marriage.

The financial and other matters involved in legal separations and divorces can be very complex. For example, whether insurance coverage may be lost due to divorce or separation must be determined in each individual case. For this reason, it is critical to consult with an experienced family lawyer who can explain the potential impact of each avenue before a decision is made.

Judy L. Burger pairs her extensive family law experience with compassion and respect. If you would like more information about how California law would impact your situation, please contact her  online  or call (415) 293-8314.

What If I’ve Been Married More Than Ten Years?


In some instances, ten years is the benchmark for a marriage to be considered a long-term marriage.  California follows this general rule, along with the Social Security Administration and the U.S. military, which can make it worthwhile to stick it out a little longer if you are close to your ten-year anniversary.  (And vice-versa if you are more likely to be required to pay spousal support.) In some cases, a marriage shorter than ten years may be deemed a long-term marriage.  As with many decisions in family court, the judge has broad discretionary authority and his or her decisions are likely to withstand appeal if evidence was presented at trial to support the judge’s decision. California law (Family Code Section 4336(a)) says that where a marriage is “of long duration,” the court retains jurisdiction indefinitely after the divorce is completed, unless the spouses agree otherwise.  Retaining jurisdiction means the court may continue making decisions about matters between the ex-spouses, and can reevaluate original orders and modify them if the facts justify a change.  In other words, unless alimony was waived by agreement, a court can reopen a case and award alimony later based on a change in circumstances, even if alimony was not awarded in the original proceedings. The Social Security Administration also considers ten years to be a long-term marriage, which means a spouse could be eligible for derivative Social Security benefits if he or she remains unmarried at retirement age, depending on the former spouse’s earnings. If your spouse is an active duty member of the military and you were married ten years, you may also be eligible for retirement pay and other continuing military benefits. At the Law Offices of Judy L. Burger, we will persistently pursue the best outcome possible for you in your divorce or post-divorce proceedings, whether you need to demonstrate the other spouse’s faults, or defend such claims.  Judy L. Burger is known for her aggressive representation of clients in high conflict cases in and around the San Francisco Bay and Sacramento areas.  If you are a spouse facing litigation, call us today to learn more about how we can help.  Call (415)293-8314 in the San Francisco Bay area or (916)631-1935 in the Sacramento area, or contact us online via our confidential inquiry form.