Many couples file for divorce or legal separation and start living as individuals again. The law allows you to immediately return to a single lifestyle with the caveat that you are still officially married. This allows you to divide property and go your own way – but what if you can’t afford to? Many couples opt to stay living in the same house, whether for financial reasons, for their children, or for other reasons. Does California law let you continue to live together if you want to be legally separated? The Ventura divorce attorneys at the Law Offices of Bamieh and De Smeth explain.
Can You Live Together During Legal Separation in California?
For the longest time, California law required spouses to live “separate and apart” during a divorce or legal separation. This meant that you would still be considered “together” financially and romantically if you lived together. This is still the law in many states, but California has adapted to understand modern housing problems and the financial difficulty of moving out and paying rent in the immediate aftermath of a separation.
California had cases come through its court system where this old definition didn’t make much sense. There was a case in 2015, In re Marriage of Davis, where one couple decided to end their relationship, discussed it, and separated their finances, but continued to live together. They filed for divorce 2 years later, but she kept living in the house for another 5 years after the breakup. The court in that case agreed that, despite the “separate and apart” requirements, the couple was clearly separated after the first discussion.
Legal Separation Laws in California
In 2016, California enacted a bill to adopt this definition into the California Family Code. CA Family Code § 70 went into effect January 1, 2017, and it adopts a definition of the “date of separation” that looks at when the relationship ended instead of when the couple moved apart. It looks at factors such as the couple’s discussions and communications of intent to end the relationship as well as whether the couple acted consistent with having broken up.
For instance, under this law, the following situations may be decided as follows:
- If a couple discusses breaking up and decides to do so, then moves into separate rooms and stops sharing a bed and finances, they will likely be seen as separated.
- If a couple discusses breaking up, but then continues to sleep in the same bed and have intercourse, a court will likely see them as still married, since they still act like spouses.
- If a couple does not discuss breaking up, but they start sleeping in separate beds, the court will likely not see them as broken up, since they never discussed an intent to separate.
Ultimately, this means that you can indeed still live together after being separated. However, you will need to be careful to make your intent clear and act as a separated couple. Continuing to foster a physical or romantic relationship or failing to explicitly discuss separation will likely mean you and your spouse won’t be considered separated.
How Living Together Affects Divorce and Legal Separation
Many of the legal effects of legal separation and divorce are the same: in both cases, the court needs to decide how to divide assets and finances, who gets the house, who gets custody of the children, who needs to pay child support, and whether either spouse gets alimony (spousal support). If you continue to live together, this may affect finances in a few major areas.
First, determining the date of separation is vital for many of these decisions. California is a community property state, which means that you and your spouse split all assets acquired during the life of the marriage. Under these rules, nearly everything you receive between the date of the wedding to the date of separation is divided 50/50. If you still live together and the date of separation is hard to determine, the court may decide that assets acquired after you thought you were separated are still marital property and should be split. Talk to a lawyer about firmly setting the date of separation.
Second, child custody and child support issues are usually decided once the parents move out and live under separate roofs. If you and your spouse are separated but continue to live together, child custody orders dividing parenting time may be unnecessary, since you and your spouse both continue to live with the kids. This can actually simplify many of these matters.
Third, asset division and alimony decisions might be affected. Usually, when you and your spouse move apart and live separately, all assets and finances are divided. When you stay in the same house, you continue to share the house, the furniture, other household items, and potentially even vehicles. This may mean that the court will declare that these items are still jointly owned, and you will need to go back to court later to divide these shared assets if you do move out or finalize your legal separation as a divorce.
There may be other ways that continuing to live together could affect your legal separation or divorce. Call our lawyers today to discuss your case.
Call Our Ventura, CA Legal Separation Lawyers for a Free Consultation
If you and your spouse are considering legal separation, it is important to talk to an attorney about your case. Our Ventura, CA family law attorneys can help you with your legal separation case and guide you through the process of clearly establishing the date of separation and keeping your finances and relationship separate if you plan to continue to live with your spouse. For a free legal consultation on your case, call the Law Offices of Bamieh and De Smeth today at (805) 643-5555.