Under California’s community property system, courts treat all property obtained before divorcing spouses separate as community property to be split evenly among them. That often makes the separation date a hot-button topic. As California’s Fifth District Court of Appeals recently explained, the matter becomes more difficult to resolve in the common scenario in which spouses try to reconcile after an initial separation.
Wife filed for divorce in December 2000, after nearly 11 years of marriage to Husband. Both spouses were represented by attorneys in the two years’ worth of proceedings that followed. The parties later agreed on how their property would be divided, as well as on the custody and support of their children. They asked the court not to enter a ruling on the actual divorce, however, indicating that they were trying to reconcile the relationship.
Wife’s attorney submitted a “Judgment of Dissolution of Marriage” document to the trial court in late January 2002. The document laid out the terms of the couple’s agreement on property, custody, and other issues. It also stated that the couple had separated in December 2000. Although the trial court originally returned the document because it wasn’t signed by Husband and Wife, the trial judge later approved the document without the signatures. The judge retained jurisdiction to determine the status of the marriage if the reconciliation failed.