California Rules of Engagement in Divorce: What You Must Know

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 means you can request your family law judge make certain orders. It also means you are bound by certain rules of engagement.

What is the purpose of the rules of engagement?

The 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 automatically applies at from the beginning of the case. In other words, they apply to the petitioner as soon as they file for divorce, and they apply to the respondent as soon as they are served with the divorce petition.

The rules of engagement include the following:

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

2. A party 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. A party 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 obtained the other party's written consent or permission from the court.

4. A party 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.

Ongoing disclosure duties

In addition to these rules of conduct, there are also ongoing disclosure duties that apply to spouses throughout the divorce case, including the following: 

  • A duty to accurately and completely disclose all assets and liabilities in which the party has or may have an interest or obligation.
  • A duty to accurately and completely disclose any investment opportunity, business opportunity, or other income-producing opportunities. This disclosure must be made in a sufficient timeframe for the other spouse to determine whether they want 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.

Negative consequences of not following the rules

It's important to understand these rules to avoid the potentially harsh consequences of 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 lawyer(s), leading to less of a likelihood that a reasonable settlement can be reached.

A good mediator or divorce lawyer will understand the ins and outs of these rules of engagement and will make sure you are on the right track. They understand 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. Hello Divorce has mediators and divorce lawyers you can work with by the hour with no retainer.

Founder, CEO & Certified Family Law Specialist
Mediation, Divorce Strategy, Divorce Insights, Legal Insights
After over a decade of experience as a Certified Family Law Specialist, Mediator and law firm owner, Erin was fed up with the inefficient and adversarial “divorce corp” industry and set out to transform how consumers navigate divorce - starting with the legal process. By automating the court bureaucracy and integrating expert support along the way, Hello Divorce levels the playing field between spouses so that they can sort things out fairly and avoid missteps. Her access to justice work has been recognized by the legal industry and beyond, with awards and recognition from the likes of Women Founders Network, TechCrunch, Vice, Forbes, American Bar Association and the Pro Bono Leadership award from Congresswoman Barbara Lee. Erin lives in California with her husband and two children, and is famously terrible at board games.