The "date of separation" is one of the most important issues to determine at the beginning of any divorce case. The date of separation marks the end of the martial community and represents the termination of the marriage for the purposes of determining the length of the marriage. From the date of separation forward, all earnings and accumulations of both parties are their separate property. In order for the date of separation to occur the following two factors must be present: (1) the parties must be living "separate and apart" and (2) at least one spouse must have the subjective intent (evident through objectively evaluated actions) never to resume the marital relationship. Until recently, many San Diego family law attorneys believed that, in order to live separate and apart, the spouses needed to maintain two separate residences. However, this issue has always been debatable for other divorce attorneys.
On October 25, 2013, the First District Court of Appeal cleared up the "living separate and apart" debate for the family law community. The First District Court of Appeal sustained a trial court's holding in In re Marriage of Davis which stands for the proposition that it is not necessary for spouses to maintain two separate residences in order to be "separated" for the purposes of determining date of separation. The court opined that factors, other than living in two separate residences could satisfy the "separate and apart" requirement to establish the date of separation. In particular, the court relied on a change in how the parties handled their finances and the fact that Ms. Davis filed for divorce in its conclusion that the parties lived "separate and apart" while still residing under the same roof.
If you believe you have separated from your spouse but are still living in the same residence with him or her, you might consider the actions of the Davis couple in order to establish a case for date of separation. One of the most important considerations in the Davis case was the change in how the parties handled their finances. In Davis, the parties began depositing their individual earnings into separate bank accounts. Each month, the parties would deposit a certain amount of funds into a joint account which would be used to maintain the household expenses. However, each party was responsible to pay for their own personal expenses with their separate funds. In addition to separating their finances, in Davis the parties began to sleep in separate bedrooms and ceased sexual relations.
In general, the Court will look for a shift in the parties' behavior to determine the date of separation. Therefore, if the parties have always maintained separate bank accounts throughout marriage, the Court will not likely give as much weight to that factor as it did in the Davis case.