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What’s the “Date of Separation?”

Deciding what is the right “date of separation” is often confusing, even though it has legal significance.  That date is a key to many issues in a divorce.

One of the first things the Family Law Petition asks is your date of marriage and your date of separation.  These dates are important to get right, as they affect many financial issues.  While the date of marriage is rarely a problem (it’s there on the marriage license), the date of separation can be trouble.  Legally, it is the date at which a disinterested observer would determine that the marriage is over.  Sometimes that’s easy – doors slam, tires screech, curses go off in the air.  Other times, it’s not so easy, because people keep trying, or perhaps one party does, but not the other, or people want to keep their business private.

Because no one can see into another’s mind, the courts require some clear, unequivocal action to determine the separation date.  That could be moving out of the house, or even moving into another room in the house, if it is done with the clear intent to effect a separation (as opposed to sleeping in a different room because your spouse snores).  Moving out by itself may not be clear enough, but moving out with an announcement of separation to friends and family would probably do it.  Filing a Family Law Petition would absolutely do it.

Why is it important?  If there’s a pension to divide, the non-employee’s part will be affected by the date of separation.  If there’s spousal support at issue, then the length of marriage really matters.  Bills incurred after separation are usually the responsibility of the person incurring them (unless both applied for a credit card, in which case you will be liable to the card company until you tell them to cut it off).  Property acquired after separation will be separate, not community.