Category Archives: Legal Separation

Ask a California Divorce Attorney What Is a Legal Separation

Ask a California Divorce Attorney: What Is a Legal Separation?

Sheila found herself facing a difficult decision – should she end her marriage or not? Things hadn’t been going well, but Sheila had always been an optimist. But this time, she needed more than platitudes and motivational messages. She needed a course of action that might help her move forward. Sheila could ask a California divorce attorney whether legal separation was the answer.

Three Ways to End a Marriage

Generally, there are three ways to end a marriage in California:

  • Annulment,
  • Divorce, and
  • Legal Separation.

But each of these options is different. Annulment is not for everyone because it involves particular situations, like someone who is forced or coerced into a fraudulent marriage. Divorces completely end a marital relationship and might include dealing with issues like property division, child custody, and spousal support.

Legal separation might be the most mysterious of the three options. In fact, some states do not even recognize the concept of legally separating from a spouse. California, however, does allow couples to get a legal separation. Before taking this step, it’s crucial that you talk to a California divorce attorney to make sure this is the right step to make. Legal separation is not for everyone.

What Legal Separation Can and Cannot Do

It’s crucial to understand how this legal process can help you. It’s also crucial to understand situations it will not resolve.

Marital status is the first issue. A legal separation does not end your marriage but just sort of puts it on hold. You will still be married to your spouse. This means that you cannot marry anyone else. Your marital status might affect other legal situations, so make sure you discuss this with your divorce attorney before proceeding. For example, you might still want to file federal taxes as a married couple without having to live with each other.

Some people want to divorce but cannot meet California’s residency requirements. Before filing, you must have lived in California for at least the past six months. You also must live in the county where you want to file for at least three months before filing. If you cannot qualify for divorce, a legal separation can help until you are eligible.

In California, your spouse does not have to agree to the divorce. However, the same is not true for legal separations. If your spouse will not agree to separate, you might have to move forward with a divorce.

Finally, the decision to file for divorce is difficult. Becoming legally separated gives people time to decide whether they should file for divorce. It may also give you time to try out being on your own, away from your spouse. Some people may discover their marital problems were temporary and reunite with their spouse. Others may find that divorce provides the fresh start that they need.

Find Out if Legal Separation Is the Answer for You

The attorneys at The Law Offices of Judy L. Burger are well-versed in divorce and the dissolution of registered domestic partnerships. 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 Southern California Coast.

Revisiting California’s Date of Separation

Revisiting California’s Date of Separation

Certain dates are memorable in a person’s life. Many dates, like birthdays and anniversaries, are celebrated. But when a marriage is over, and it’s time to file for divorce, another date becomes critical – the date of separation. California law has evolved on this subject, but people thinking of filing for divorce need to understand the effect that date can have on their divorce settlement.

A Simple Term, Right?

“Date of separation” seems straightforward and easy to understand. In a divorce case, however, the date is much more than a square on your calendar.

Courts will use the date of separation as defined by California law when deciding property division issues in your divorce. Here’s what California Family Code Section 70 says:

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.

This means that certain aspects of your divorce depend on getting the date of separation right.

Property Division and the Date of Separation

Married couples usually acquire assets and debts during their marriage. Most of those assets and debts are considered to be community property owned by the couple. However, couples often have separate property and debts that only one spouse owns.

During your divorce, it’s necessary to decide what’s community and what’s separate. In a community property state like California, community property is usually split roughly 50-50 between the spouses. There are some exceptions, however.

The “complete and final break in the marital relationship” can be hard to determine. Some couples decide to split but continue to live together and commingle funds. Couples can continue to live together during the divorce, but at least one spouse must exhibit conduct that “is consistent with his or her intent to end the marriage.” Calculating the date can be difficult but is necessary.

For example, one spouse might get a large bonus from work while the divorce is pending. Did this happen before or after the date of separation? If before, then the bonus could be community property. But if it’s paid after the couple is officially separated, it might qualify as separate property.

In fact, division of financial payments, property acquisitions, and so on that occur while the divorce is pending could become complicated if the date of separation is unclear.

We Can Help Sort Out Your Date of Separation and Other Divorce Issues

The attorneys at The Law Offices of Judy L. Burger are well-versed in divorce and the dissolution of registered domestic partnerships. 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 Southern California Coast.

Talking About Your Ex-Spouse on Social Media Understanding the Shak vs. Shak Decision Regarding Non-Disparagement Clauses

Talking About Your Ex-Spouse on Social Media: Understanding the Shak vs. Shak Decision Regarding Non-Disparagement Clauses

Social media platforms offer unprecedented views into other people’s lives. We can share everything from pictures of what we had for lunch to our child’s latest soccer success to our favorite motivational messages. But there are times when it’s not a good idea to communicate through social media. Consider people who are divorced or planning to divorce. Social media can provide them with a multitude of ways to talk badly about a co-parent or former spouse. At times, court orders and divorce agreements have included non-disparagement language that prohibits this kind of language. A court case in Massachusetts may have altered how we deal with parents who write negative information about each other online.

Shak vs. Shak

Ronnie and Masha Shak had only been married about fifteen months when Masha filed for divorce. The child they had together was only a year old at the time. A judge issued a temporary order giving sole custody of the child to Masha. Shortly after that, Masha filed a motion asking for additional temporary orders. Among other things, she asked the judge to “prohibit the father from posting disparaging remarks about her and the ongoing litigation on social media.”

The judge did order both parties to refrain from disparaging each other, especially in the presence of their child. The order also stated that neither of them could post anything regarding the divorce on social media.

Ronnie allegedly made additional negative social media posts. Masha filed a complaint for civil contempt against Ronnie for violating the judge’s temporary order. However, another judge decided that Ronnie was not in contempt because the prior order was unlawful prior restraint of speech.

The case moved through Massachusetts courts, eventually reaching the Massachusetts Supreme Court.

The Court’s Decision

After considering the evidence, law, and case law, the Massachusetts Supreme Court (the “Court”) made its decision. The Court vacated the lower court’s orders on future disparagement. Among other things, the Court stated:

“We recognize that the motion judge put careful thought into his orders in an effort to protect a child caught in the middle of a legal dispute who was unable to advocate for himself. However, because there was no showing of an exceptional circumstance that would justify the imposition of a prior restraint, the nondisparagement orders issued here are unconstitutional.”

One reason the Court made this decision is because the child in question was a toddler and unable to understand what his parents had posted on social media. The Court felt the non-disparagement language was not needed and was, in fact, unconstitutional since the child was not directly harmed.

Also, the Court specifically noted that its order does not affect voluntary non-disparagement agreements.

Non-Disparagement, Social Media, and Your Divorce

Court order or not, it’s still a bad idea to say nasty things about your child’s other parent. Your spouse may not get a judge to order you to stop. However, you may be sued for defamation or have other legal action taken against you. But that’s not the worst part.

When you post something nasty (even if you think it is true) on social media, ask yourself if it’s in your child’s best interests. It’s probably not.

Your social media posts could be seen by family and friends or even go viral. The judge who makes decisions about your divorce will always consider your child’s best interests, even when you do not.

Is There a Place in Your Divorce for Non-Disparagement Action?

When your spouse or co-parent uses disparaging language about you online, contact an attorney immediately. Such actions could show a disregard for a court order and for protecting your child’s best interests.

Please call us at 415-293-8314 to discuss your case. The attorneys at the Law Offices of Judy L. Burger assist clients with divorce matters. We maintain offices in San Francisco, San Diego, Beverly Hills, Marin County, Santa Barbara, Ventura/Oxnard, San Jose, Gold River (Sacramento), and surrounding communities.

Why Preliminary Financial Disclosures Are Important

Why Preliminary Financial Disclosures Are Important

The typical divorce case involves many issues, including child custody, spousal support, and property division. Transparency is key to fairly resolving these issues, especially when it comes to dividing a couple’s marital assets and debts. In a community property state like California, debts and assets acquired after marriage usually belong to both parties. That’s why the preliminary financial disclosures are important – it’s hard to divide property when you don’t know it exists.

What are preliminary financial disclosures?

The divorce action starts when one person files a petition to dissolve the marriage. At the same time, or within 60 days, the petitioner serves the preliminary financial disclosures on the other party. If the other party responds to the petition, he or she must also serve preliminary financial disclosures on the petitioner.

Several documents make up the disclosure packet:

  • Declaration of Disclosure,
  • Income and Expense Declaration,
  • Schedule or Assets and Debts OR a Property Declaration, and
  • Declaration Regarding Service of Declaration of Disclosure.

Courts generally do not grant divorces if the parties have not submitted their financial disclosure forms.

What happens if the preliminary financial disclosures are wrong?

It’s entirely possible one party could omit assets from the disclosures accidentally. It’s also possible that the assets are being hidden to avoid sharing them with the other party.

If disclosures are incomplete or wrong, the simple answer is that the property will not be divided evenly. One party may not receive everything they deserve. The court may approve the property settlement without learning of the hidden property.

Accidental omissions on the preliminary financial disclosures may be easy to fix. However, deliberately concealing assets can lead to penalties. For example, a court may award 100% of a community property asset to the innocent party instead of only 50%.

Make Sure Your Property Is Disclosed and Divided Properly

Talk to an experienced California divorce attorney today. Please call us at (415) 293-8314 to schedule a confidential appointment with one of our attorneys.

Please call us at 415-293-8314 to discuss your case. The attorneys at the Law Offices of Judy L. Burger assist clients with divorce matters in San Francisco, Beverly Hills, Marin County, Santa Barbara, Ventura/Oxnard, San Jose, Gold River (Sacramento), and surrounding communities.
Legal Separation When You’re Not Sure About the Split

Legal Separation: When You’re Not Sure About the Split

Brad and Sheila’s marriage had been rocky almost from the start. Still, they always seemed to be able to patch things up. This time, though, Brad did more than just move out for a few weeks before returning home. He filed for a legal separation from Sheila. Both Brad and Sheila felt that a legal separation might be best since they still were not sure about their split. Before reaching a final decision, they should understand a little more about how legal separation works in California.

California Laws

Every state has its own family laws. While some states do not recognize legal separation, California law does allow legal separation of both marriages and registered domestic partnerships. However, the parties will go through a formal court proceeding. To start the process, one spouse files a petition with an appropriate court asking for a legal separation. The other spouse has 30 days to answer the petition for legal separation. After considering issues like child support, custody, property, and spousal support, the court decides whether to allow a legal separation. You may be wondering why a couple would go to the trouble of obtaining a legal separation rather than just getting a divorce.

Marital Status

During a legal separation, the parties are still married and so cannot marry anyone else. For some people, this is an advantage.

Property

After a judge approves the legal separation, the “earnings and accumulations of each party are the separate property of the party acquiring the earnings or accumulations.” Separation of earnings may be a compelling reason for some couples to legally separate.

Religion

Some may prefer legal separation to divorce because some religions do not condone divorce. The couple can live apart without breaking religious laws.

Residency

To obtain a divorce, either party has to meet California residency requirements:
  • At least one spouse must have lived in California for the past six months, AND
  • That spouse must have lived in the county where the divorce will be filed for the past three months.
People who want a legal separation are not bound by such residency requirement. In fact, some parties file a legal separation, then convert it to a divorce as soon as they have met the residency rules.

Legal Separation May Be a Solution

Our couple, Brad and Sheila, preferred the legal separation because it gave them time to adjust to the reality of divorce before actually divorcing. At some point, they may choose to convert their legal separation to a divorce or end the separation by reconciling. The attorneys at the Law Offices of Judy L. Burger are experienced at all phases of legal separations and divorce proceedings. Call us at 415-293-8314 to schedule a private appointment or visit our website. We maintain offices in San Francisco, Beverly Hills, Marin County, Santa Barbara, Ventura/Oxnard, San Jose, Gold River (Sacramento), and surrounding communities.
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.

Procedure

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.

Finances.

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.