Musician and Grammy Award Winner Ben Harper Files for Divorce From His Wife of Four Years

Ben Harper recently filed for divorce from his wife of four years, Laura Dern. In the divorce paperwork, Harper listed the "Date of Separation" as January 1, 2010. However, as recently as November 14, 2010, Ben and Laura were seen out and about together with their children. Further, many sources have stated that the couple have been living and traveling together all year. Are they actually separated?

The "Date of Separation" has more significance than one might think. For purposes of a divorce, the income of either spouse earned after the "date of separation" is that person's separate property, whereas during the marriage all earnings were community property. Further, in a short term marriage (less than ten years) the date of separation can affect the amount and duration of any spousal support payments. In Harper's case, if he and Dern were actually separated as of January 1, 2010, anything he earned after that date and any property he accumulated would be his separate property and Dern would have no claim to it. Further, Dern would only be entitled to spousal support for one half the length of the marriage, which according to Harper was only four years. If the parties are not actually separated however, Dern would be entitled to at least an additional six months of spousal support.

So how does the Court determine the date of separation? According to In re Marriage of Manfer (2006) 144 Cal.App.4th 925, the date of separation is determined by the parties' subjective intent and not the public's perception of the relationship. "The date of separation occurs when either party does not intend to resume the marriage and his or her actions bespeak the finality of the marital relationship. There must be problems that have so impaired the marriage relationship that the legitimate objects of matrimony have been destroyed and there is no reasonable possibility of eliminating, correcting or resolving these problems." According to the Manfer definition, Ben Harper and Laura Dern may have actually been separated since January 1, 2010, even though they have been seen spending time together if either or both of them actually intended that the marriage was over at that point. That they continue to live together does not necessarily prove that they are not separated for purposes of their divorce. Although it remains to be seen whether Dern will dispute Harper's listed date of separation, Harper may have a difficult time proving that the parties were actually separated as of January 1, given all the photos of them spending time together.

Determining the date of separation is just one step in the dissolution process. At Mello & Pickering, LLP we represent clients in all aspects of their dissolution matters including custody and visitation issues and property division. Call us for a free 20 minute consultation or one hour in person appointment at (408) 288-7800.