May 1, 2020

This is a photo of scissors cutting a credit card in half.

I believe every person, even those in relationships and marriages, should work; part-time or full-time. My reasoning is two-fold and founded upon the high cost of living in today’s world. (1) Even if your spouse or significant other is gainfully employed, what will you do if he, and I am being sexist at the moment, loses his job? Granted, we all have savings, or should; but, what if the termination was for a really bad reason, such as medical malpractice, and a license is in jeopardy or a pandemic occurs (because that will never happen, right?)? Or, what if your spouse or partner dies? Employment is insurance. (2) Employment is also independence. It is empowering to know how much things cost; to know the value of a dollar. And, of course, to make sure you always have the ability to leave if you need to, such as in an abusive relationship.

What if you and your partner decided that one person would stay at home and take care of the house and kids and one person would work? What if this arrangement has been in place for years; how about decades? What if things start getting hostile and the working partner threatens “if you try to leave, I will leave you penniless and on the street.” Sadly, this threat is commonly issued and forces many people to stay in unhealthy and frightening relationships. What are your options if you have received such a threat? Note, this blog post addresses marriages only.

The California Family Code is on the side of the victim in such situations. California Family Code section 4300 states “a person shall support the person’s spouse.” As you are waiting for this support to be paid, find refuge in the following. California Family Code section 214 states:

(a)Notwithstanding Section 913, a married person is personally liable for the following debts incurred by the person’s spouse during marriage:

(1)A debt incurred for necessaries of life of the person’s spouse before the date of separation of the spouses.

(2)Except as provided in Section 4302, a debt incurred for common necessaries of life of the person’s spouse after the date of separation of the spouses.

(b)The separate property of a married person may be applied to the satisfaction of a debt for which the person is personally liable pursuant to this section.If separate property is so applied at a time when nonexempt property in the community estate or separate property of the person’s spouse is available but is not applied to the satisfaction of the debt, the married person is entitled to reimbursement to the extent such property was available.

(emphasis added)

So this may mean, depending on your situation, if you had to run up a credit card to get out then your spouse may be liable for this debt.

In fact, pursuant to Collection Bureau of San Jose v. Rumsey(2000) 24 Cal.4th 301a spouse may even be liable, post-separation, to a third party who furnishes “necessaries of life” to the other spouse.

If the law setting forth the duty to support a spouse is not enough, let’s talk about the consequences. California Penal Code section 270(a) states: 

Every individual who has sufficient ability to provide for his or her spouse’s support, or who is able to earn the means of such spouse’s support, who willfully abandons and leaves his or her spouse in a destitute condition, or who refuses or neglects to provide such spouse with necessary food, clothing, shelter, or medical attendance, unless by such spouse’s conduct the individual was justified in abandoning such spouse, is guilty of a misdemeanor. 

(emphasis added)

What if orders are in place and the supporting spouse decides to skip town? California Penal Code section 270.6 adds:

If a court of competent jurisdiction has made a temporary or permanent order awarding spousal support that a person must pay, the person has notice of that order, and he or she then leaves the state with the intent to willfully omit, without lawful excuse, to furnish the spousal support, he or she is punishable by imprisonment in a county jail for a period not exceeding one year, a fine not exceeding two thousand dollars ($2,000), or both that imprisonment and fine.

(emphasis added)

The best way to deal with a problem is to avoid it. Everyone in California should work. But, again, if this is not your situation for whatever reason and you want out of your marriage, find solace and safety in the law and always, always talk with a California Family Law attorney before you make any decisions along these lines. We are here to help you.

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