Date of Separation and the Collaborative Divorce Process

There are so many financial implications to divorce including the date of separation. It is best to work with expert divorce attorneys and financial professional on your side.
There are so many financial implications to divorce including the date of separation. It is best to work with expert divorce attorneys and financial professional on your side.

There are so many financial implications to divorce including the date of separation. It is best to work with expert divorce attorneys and financial professional on your side.

by Frann Setzer, Esq.
MBA/Certified Family Law Specialist
The Law Office of Frann Setzer, APLC

In some dissolutions, the date that parties separate is a crucial issue. This is because by law, the marital ‘community’ ends on the day when parties separate. The end of the marital community means that income earned or possibly property purchased after that date might belong to only one person. The date that parties separate also determines the length of the marriage, which potentially affects the length of spousal support or whether or not spousal support can be terminated.

Attorney Frann Setzer

Family law attorney Frann Setzer

While each situation is different, the date of separation can be a very contentious issue in a divorce.

For example, let’s say that Ms. Smith is the primary wage earner for her family. She believes she and her husband separated in January 2015, when she packed most of her belongings and began to spend many nights at her friend’s house and on the sofa at her office. Ms. Smith did return to the marital home for dinner at least twice a month. The couple also decided not to tell very many people about their impending divorce. Mr. Smith works, but earns approximately 20% of Ms. Smith’s income. He believes that the parties separated in August 2015, when Ms. Smith finally rented an apartment.

In March 2015, Ms. Smith received approximately $500,000 in commissions from work that she did from January 2015 until March 2015. Since Ms. Smith believes the date of separation was January 2015, she also believes that the $500,000 is her separate property.

Conversely, given his belief that they separated in August 2015, Mr. Smith believes the $500,000 is community, making him entitled to $250,000. To complicate matters further, in March 2015, the parties would have been married for 10 years. Under California law, a marriage of 10 years or longer is considered ‘long term,’ which could greatly affect spousal support.

The facts of this particular situation are such that, a court could find for either party in terms of a date of separation. It could be January or August. One person ‘wins’ and one person ‘loses.’

Does this sound complicated? The above situation occurs more often than you might think. Many people do not wish to be a part of the adversarial world of litigation, where the outcome is all or nothing and where they risk making enemies of each other.

Enter the Collaborative Divorce process, where clients can meet with their attorneys, divorce coaches and their financial neutral and craft a solution to a very complicated situation that works for them. Their attorneys advise them of the law, their coaches get them to examine their true goals and the financial neutral can examine their needs. A global solution can be reached that takes into account property as well as support. Complexity is not the issue, the willingness of the parties to listen to each other and reach an equitable solution is the definitive factor.

Collaborative Divorce Method Mirrors Reality, Replacing Fear With Relief

by Meredith G. Lewis, Esq
Certified Legal Specialist-Family Law
Certified Divorce Financial Analyst
Lewis, Warren & Setzer, LLP

For the first several years of my family law practice, I represented clients who were looking to the judicial system to make decisions regarding their children, finances and property.  These clients felt it appropriate to provide a judge who didn’t personally know anything about them with complete control over their future and that of their family.

A release of such control never seemed natural to me.

As I slowly transitioned my practice to only Alternate Dispute Resolution (“ADR”), I saw a much higher rate of satisfaction with the dissolution process among my clients.  Until 2013 my ADR practice focused mostly on mediation. At the suggestion of my friend and colleague  Shawn Weber, CFLS, I took the Collaborative training.

The training showed me that the Collaborative process and its outcome better reflected reality.  In the artificial environment of a courtroom, a judge is limited in his or her decisions by the Family Code and case law.  However, these code sections and court opinions often do not allow a judge to mirror reality.

I instantly realized during my first Collaborative case that it is a process which understands the needs of the parties.  The key moment of this realization was during the meeting addressing the issue of spousal support. Instead of plugging in numbers into a computer program to come up with an artificial support payment, we reviewed in detail each individual’s monthly budget, and allocated the combined net income appropriately.

This process insured each spouse’s necessary expenses were met, and even allowed some discretionary expenses to be covered.  The spousal support number was based on reality, and each person walked away from the meeting feeling confident he or she could financially survive post dissolution.

Best of all, their fear about the future was replaced by a sense of relief, which resulted in having control over how their lives would progress.

The team approach of the Collaborative dissolution was an invaluable tool for working with this family. As in any case, each had their own attorney for legal advice, but both also had the benefit of a financial expert providing knowledge and insight, and a mental health professional to address their emotions during the process. These are two key components which are often missing from the traditional divorce process.

The ultimate agreement and outcome of the case was one that in fact mirrored reality, allowing each individual to have control of his or her future – control that was never handed over to the impersonal judicial system.