New Case Shakes Up San Diego Family Law

Recently the California Court of Appeal handed down a decision that has settled an ongoing dispute throughout San Diego family courts. Family law attorneys agree that spouses owe each other the highest duties of good faith during marriage and undoubtedly throughout the litigation process. This duty requires parties to keep each other informed of their current financial state by exchanging Declarations of Disclosure.

In the beginning of a dissolution case, both parties complete their Preliminary Declarations of Disclosure, which consists of an Income and Expense Declaration and a Schedule of Assets and Debts. By completing these two forms and their requisite attachments the parties provide their current assets, debts, income and expenses. These figures can help the parties settle disputes regarding property division, child support or spousal support. If the court will hear a motion regarding support, the parties must also file these disclosures with the court. The judge will use the information provided to set support amounts. Because of the immense reliance on disclosure of finances, the court takes the fiduciary duties of spouses seriously.

In the recent California case, In re Marriage of Sorge, the court was faced with a slightly different scenario. The parties sought a modification of support at the trial court level; however, they were already divorced and had reached a final resolution of their case. Wife argued that Husband breached his fiduciary duties because he failed to disclose a material change in his finances. Husband argued that he was under no obligation to disclose any changes because the fiduciary duties between spouses end upon a final resolution of the case. The trial court agreed with Wife and Husband appealed the decision.

In the case of spousal support, Wife argued that spousal fiduciary duties continued until the court lost jurisdiction to order support. In the case of child support, Wife also argued that the duties continued until the court lost jurisdiction, which usually occurs when the youngest child of the marriage reaches the age of 18. The Court of Appeal overturned local Judge Longstreth’s decision and relied primarily on Family Code section 3660 et. seq. Under this section of the code, former spouses have the ability to ask the other spouse for an updated status of their finances once per year. The court reasoned that this code would be superfluous if the legislature intended continuing fiduciary duties to run between former spouses.

Please contact us if you are considering a divorce from your spouse, a legal separation, or have questions regarding child custody and visitation. Nancy J. Bickford is the only attorney in San Diego County representing clients in divorces, who is a Certified Family Law Specialist (CFLS) and who is actively licensed as a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). Don’t settle for less when determining your rights. Call 858-793-8884 in Del Mar, Carmel Valley, North County or San Diego.

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