A fiduciary is a person who holds a legal relationship of trust between himself or herself and another person. In California, a “Fiduciary Duty” in a Family Law context means that spouses, because they are married, are legally obligated to care for each financially with the utmost care and consideration. They “owe” each other a duty of care that is far, far higher than they would owe a stranger, or even another family member. It has been likened to the level of care a nanny should provide an infant child!
This means that, in California, one spouse can be sued by the other spouse if they fail, even unintentionally, to meet their obligations under this heightened duty.
The possibility of Fiduciary Duty violations is often overlooked in Family Law cases by spouses, attorneys and even judges. The media stereotype would have you believe that tricks, ruthless behavior, “scorched earth” tactics, etc. are a common part of a divorce litigation. Worse, many divorce attorneys engage in these behaviors on behalf of their clients, not knowing or not caring that this conduct can open their client to suits for damages and mandatory attorney’s fees.
In California this fiduciary duty can continue for many years after a Judgment of Dissolution is entered: fiduciary duties continue until the final division and distribution of the community property.
The remedies provided by the Family Code for violations of fiduciary duty can be draconian, even if you had the best of intentions and your violation was accidental. In future blog posts, I will explore these duties, and the penalties for violating them.
At Divorce Helpline, we can help you understand your and your spouse’s fiduciary duty under California law, and work with you, in mediation, or with our coaching service, to avoid any accidental violation of your fiduciary duty to your spouse.