Rules of Engagement in Divorce: Play Fair or Pay Up

Between the time the divorce petition is filed and the final entry of judgment, parties are under the purview of the Family Court System. This allows parties to request their family law judge make certain orders. It also means that the parties are bound by certain rules of engagement.

These rules of engagement are largely designed to protect each party’s ability to fairly litigate or negotiate the custody, support, and property division issues within their case.

The first set of rules apply automatically from the very beginning of the case. In other words, these rules apply to the Petitioner as soon as he or she files for divorce and apply to the Respondent as soon as he or she is served with the divorce petition. These rules include the following:

1. The parties cannot remove their minor children from the state, nor can the parties apply for a new passport their minor children, without the other party’s written consent or permission from the court.

2. The parties cannot transfer, hide, or dispose of any real or personal property without the other party’s written consent or permission from the court. However, exceptions exist for the parties to use their assets to obtain the “necessaries of life” or to conduct the “usual course of business”.

3. The parties cannot cancel, cash out, or change the beneficiaries of any life, health, automobile, or disability insurance if the beneficiaries for the policy are either party or their children, unless the party has the obtained the other party’s written consent or permission from the court.

4. The parties cannot create or modify any instrument (other than a will) that will cause their property to be transferred upon a party’s death, without the other party’s written consent or permission from the court.
In addition to these rules of conduct, there are also ongoing disclosure duties that apply to spouses throughout the divorce case, including:

1. A duty to accurately and completely disclose all assets and liabilities in which the party has or may have an interest or obligation;

2. A duty to accurately and completely disclose any investment opportunity, business opportunity, or other income-producing opportunity. This disclosure must be made in sufficient time for the other spouse to determine whether he or she desires to participate in the opportunity, and for the court to resolve any dispute regarding the right of the other spouse to participate in the opportunity.

It’s important to understand these rules to avoid the potentially harsh consequences for violating them, which can include monetary sanctions. You can really destroy your credibility in the eyes of the court (which could impact a ruling on subsequent issues). Additionally (and perhaps more importantly), a failure to follow any of the above rules may lead to further breakdown of a likely already strained and distrustful relationship between the divorcees and/or their attorney(s) leading to less of a likelihood that a reasonable settlement can be reached.

A good family lawyer will understand the ins and outs of these rules of engagement and will make sure that you are on the right track. S/he understands strategy and leverage but will not risk the harsh consequences that come with violating the basic rules of engagement or compromise your integrity and the integrity of your case.

**Please note that this blog pertains to existing California law and is meant for informational purposes only. Please do not make decisions that will affect your future based on things you’ve read on our website. Instead, consult with a Certified Family Law Specialist – It doesn’t have to be us, but be sure to seek out sound legal advice that pertains specifically to the facts of your case.

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