I have been watching the TV series “Weeds” on Netflix recently. One married couple in the show exhibited a lack of understanding of how community property works. This post will contain some minor spoilers about the show’s plot primarily in the middle of Season 2 and up through Season 3.
Weeds is set in a fictional town that seems to be located somewhere in Southern California. This means that California’s Community Property laws would apply in a divorce between the couple. Somewhere in Season 2, Celia Hodes and her husband Dean encounter some financial difficulties when Dean is fired from his job as what appears to be in house counsel for a big company. This causes some serious tension between the couple that is later made worse when they get into a fight over whether their daughter Isabelle should be modeling for a plus-sized children’s clothing line.
Despite Celia’s objections, Isabelle decides to accept a modeling gig, appearing in commercials and presumably other advertisements on behalf of the clothing company. Isabelle really hates Celia though so she decides to open her own accounts to keep the money where Celia can’t reach it. Isabelle also decides to hire Dean to manage her because all good models need agents.
Dean seems to be earning a lot more money managing Isabelle’s modeling career than he was making before. With all this money, he decides to buy himself a number of things, including an expensive motorcycle. Because of the marital troubles they are already in, Dean insists that all of the money he earns from management is his money and only wants to give Celia small amounts of it when she begs for it.
Around this same time, Celia starts having an affair with Doug Wilson. Their relationship becomes serious and like all affairs they each promise to leave their existing spouses so they can be together. Ironically it is Celia who first decides to ask Dean to leave because it is really in her best interest to stay married as long as possible. Celia ends up kicked out of the house soon after she tries to kick Dean out.
How Community Property Works
To understand why Dean buying a motorcycle without consulting his wife is a bad idea and why it is in Celia’s best interests to remain married to Dean rather than pushing him away, you must understand how community property works. In community property states like California, all income earned by either spouse during the marriage is considered community property. This means that even if one spouse is not generating any income (like Celia here who seems to be unemployed and may have acted as a stay-at-home mom for quite some time) the income earned by the spouse who is working is equally shared between the couple.
This means that even though Dean is the one earning the money in the marriage, his income is not his to spend as he pleases. Because Dean’s income is community property, he should get permission from Celia before buying a motorcycle. Celia may even have a claim for reimbursement of half of the value of the motorcycle if she is able to show that it did not benefit the community.
Celia could say that purchasing the motorcycle was a breach of the fiduciary duty Dean owes to her as her husband to manage the marital finances responsibly. Even if she can’t succeed in a fiduciary duty claim, because the motorcycle was purchased with money earned during the marriage, it would most likely be considered community property and he would have to pay her for half of the value of the motorcycle so that she gets her share.
Dean’s income earned while managing Isabelle’s modeling career is presumptively considered community property until the date of separation. By moving out of the family house, Celia cuts off the generation of further community property from Dean’s income. There will probably be a big fight over the date of separation because Celia is not going to want to concede that they were separated as soon as Dean kicked her out of the family house. Proving date of separation in a divorce can be very contentious. The final determination requires looking at the specific circumstances of the couple and if they had any intent to remain together after a certain point.
Dean’s consideration of his income as his separate property also shows a problem that may have existed between the couple from the start. A lot of fighting can take place because a couple looks at income as a individual property rather than a shared pool to draw from. A couple that approaches finances as a shared endeavor is more likely to discuss large purchases and share details of the couple’s financial health. Celia and Dean have many communication issues as we see throughout the show. Celia is such a pain to interact with that it is no surprise that the marriage eventually broke down. Her daughter hated her long before she decided to end the marriage.
If you are experiencing marital troubles and want to explore what a divorce would look like, I would be happy to meet with you for a free consultation. You can submit an inquiry using the contact us button or give me a call at 858-242-5667.