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Separate homes necessary for separate property assessment

The economic climate can affect many aspects of making the decision to divorce. Making the transition from a joint household to a single household can be financially difficult, and many couples have chosen to remain in the marital home as roommates until such time as each one is able to afford the financial burden of a single-income household. The California Supreme Court recently made a ruling regarding separate property assessment and cohabitation that will give pause to couples facing divorce.

State laws vary, but community property is usually considered to be what each spouse receives, owns or earns in income, assets and property for the duration of the marriage. Separation may precede divorce proceedings by years for a variety of reasons. A separating couple may previously have chosen to remain under the same roof, occupying separate rooms and conducting completely separate lives, sharing only the bills. Assuming the couple has an amicable arrangement for dealing with household bills, one might assume that this would satisfy the legal definition of separation.

The California Supreme Court ruled that this is not enough. In order to officially qualify for separate property assessments, the couple must reside in separate homes. This may cause problems for couples who face financial difficulty in maintaining a single-income household or who choose to put off the sale of the marital home until the property market picks up. It is possible, however, that it could make the division of assets easier in the long run.

Having a specific definition of what constitutes separation may help to avoid any disputes in certain situations, for example, where one spouse earns considerably more than the other. There has been no suggestion that this would affect financial obligations such as spousal support, but it does provide a clear guide for the court regarding the point at which a separate property assessment should take place. Whatever one's circumstances, seeking the appropriate advice and guidance is advisable in order to achieve a fair and equitable settlement.

Source: fox40.com, "California Supreme Court Weighs in on Marriage Separation", July 20, 2015

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