Property division and the spousal fiduciary duty

On Behalf of | Aug 17, 2022 | Firm News |

There’s nothing pleasant about going through a divorce; it can be a trying time for everyone involved. If you’re lucky, your divorce will be amicable and you’ll be able to work through the various issues with your spouse. But many divorces are contested and, when they are, it’s important to understand that each spouse continues to have an obligation to the other.

What is a fiduciary?

The concept of a fiduciary is most often found in the business and financial worlds. It refers to role a person sometimes has, in relation to another person or entity. Someone who has a fiduciary duty – a financial advisor, for instance – has an obligation to put the interests of their client above their own. This ensures that they will treat the client’s money with care, avoiding conflicts of interest or risky moves which may put the money in jeopardy.

California extends the fiduciary duty to spouses. While the couple is married, this is usually not much of a concern, since the couple is presumably working together during that time. But the marital fiduciary duty does not end as soon as a couple separates – it extends until the divorce is final and, in some cases, beyond that point.

The fiduciary duty and property division

Since California is a community property state, both spouses are entitled to an equal share of their assets. When the court goes through the process of dividing that property, there is sometimes an inclination for one spouse to try to take advantage of the other. This is when the fiduciary duty can play a role.

California law requires each spouse to fully disclose all assets and liabilities, so that the court may divide the property. The fiduciary duty requires each spouse to continue to treat those assets and liabilities with their former spouse’s interests in mind. Running up debt or selling off assets, without the consent of the other spouse, could violate that fiduciary duty and put a spouse on the wrong side of the law.