The date of separation is a very important date in dissolution proceedings. There are a number of things the date of separation determines. Most commonly, it determines how much debt the community is liable for, since debt incurred after separation is the separate debt of the spouse that incurred it. It also most commonly determines the point your earnings become separate property.
For financial and personal reasons, parties sometimes disagree on the actual date of separation. Normally, the date of separation is when one party moves out of the family residence or tells the other party that the marriage is over. However, it is not always that simple. Sometimes moving out and having a new romantic interest isn’t enough to say that you are “separated” from your spouse. This is exactly what happened in Marriage of Baragry.
In Marriage of Baragry, Husband had a tiff with Wife and moved out of the family home and rented a separate apartment with his new girlfriend. During a period of four years while living with his girlfriend he went on family vacations with his children and Wife, took Wife to various professional outings and social events, ate dinner with Wife and children three to five times a week, and brought his laundry home twice a month for Wife to wash and iron. Wife and Husband did not have intimate relations and Wife knew Husband was living with his girlfriend. Despite this, Wife wished to reconcile and hoped that Husband would return to her.
The court was not persuaded that the parties were separated when Husband left the family home. “For four years husband maintained the facade of a marital relationship, but he now claims to have been legally separated from his wife.” In re Marriage of Baragry (1977) 73 Cal.App.3d 444, 447. The court stated, “the question is whether the parties’ conduct evidences a complete and final break in the marital relationship.
Parties are not separated unless parties are not holding themselves out as husband and wife and both parties know the marriage is over.