California Supreme Court ruling could impact property division

In order to be considered legally separated in California, do married couples need to be living apart? According to the California Supreme Court, the answer is, "yes." Earlier this month, the state's highest court ruled that married couples who are divorcing must be living in separate residences to be legally separated. According to the Chief Justice, the unanimous ruling offers fairness, predictability and clarity, and also has the potential to reduce the possibility of manipulation in situations, where one spouse earns much more than the other.

California's community property standard makes it so that income and jointly-acquired property must be shared between married spouses until they separate. The recent ruling establishes separate residences as the threshold standard of living separately and apart for the purposes of property division. Interestingly, one Justice's concurring opinion noted that it might be possible for separation to be established, even if spouses still lived under the same roof, although there would have to be an arrangement in which it is clear the marital relationship is over.

The ruling came about after a couple filed for divorce in 2008. The wife claimed they had been separated -- essentially living separate lives -- since 2006, but the husband argued the wife only moved out in 2011. The Supreme Court's ruling makes it possible for the husband to receive a share of the wife's income prior to 2011, since she was the higher earner during that time, prior to their separation.

Dividing assets and marital property is rarely easy or simple, especially when there is a dispute over when spouses began to separate. An Orange County family lawyer can clarify the property division process in light of the state's rules on the subject.