Most legally separated couples want to live in different residences, but this isn’t always possible or practical, especially when the marriage involves small children. For various reasons, many couples continue living under the same roof while legally separated. This situation can become uncomfortable for both parties, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be. There are things you and your ex-spouse can do to make cohabitation work, as well as to protect your legal rights if you decide to file for divorce. Here’s what to do if this is your circumstance in California.
Get Your Legal Ducks in a Row
In a legal separation agreement, the California courts divide property (as if you got a divorce). The date of separation plays an important role in this process, as it will determine what is community property and what is shared property. California abides by community property rules for divorce or legal separation cases. This means that a marriage or domestic partnership creates one legal “community” between two people. Any property either party acquires while in the community of marriage becomes shared property. Debt accumulation works the same way – it becomes community debt.
Community property will include any assets, incomes, or debts between the two parties, but will not include gifts or inheritance. After a party legally separates, they are no longer a “community.” From this point on, each party’s accumulated assets and debts are his/her own, and not shared properties. During asset division, the date of separation is important. The courts will split community property equally between both parties but will not touch money, assets, or debts incurred by either party after the date of separation. This is “separate property” that belongs to you alone.
To protect your assets during a legal separation and/or divorce, make the date of separation clear between you and your ex-spouse. Making the date of separation apparent while still living together can be tricky. You will need evidence of your separation that you can show to the court. To accomplish this, start living as separately as possible under the same roof. Live in different rooms, don’t prepare each other’s meals or do each other’s laundry, stop wearing wedding rings, and use separate bank accounts. Let people close to you know that you two are no longer living as a married couple and are separated within one residence. The clearer you make your date of separation, the better.
Make Cohabitation as Pleasant as Possible
Now that you’ve done what you can to protect your separate property, focus on making your new living arrangement as comfortable as possible for you and your ex-spouse. First, figure out where your separation is going. If you and your spouse plan on remaining legally separated and not divorced, think of a long-term living arrangement that works for both of you. If you decide to continue living in the same home for whatever reason, follow these tips:
- Be discreet about new boyfriends/girlfriends in your life. You may have separated because of another person, but there’s no need to flaunt your new relationship while still living with your ex-spouse.
- Create guidelines. Compromise with your ex to create living arrangements that work for both of you. Discuss who will pay which bills, how mealtimes will work, who will clean what parts of the house, etc.
- Get help from a neutral third party. If you and your ex cannot agree on something within your living arrangement, get an objective party to come in and assist.
When in doubt about your legal separation or living arrangement, speak to a family law attorney. There are many considerations you’ll need to think about in this situation. A lawyer can help you protect your best interests.