Fiduciary Duties in a Marriage

By | November 27, 2011

Married people, just like business partners, are supposed to treat each other with the utmost of good faith and fair dealing. Just as a business person should not be engaged in self-dealing at the expense of his or her partner, a spouse should likewise not steal from the community or imprudently manage community assets. In the Family Code and in case law, the fiduciary duties are set forth rather clearly. As a rule of thumb, one could think of the duties as a “golden rule” about dealing with community assets and those of one’s spouse, and do unto the other party as you would have the other party do unto you. Under the code, dishonesty and self-dealing are dealt with harshly, and if a spouse is found to have breached his or her fiduciary duties to the other party, the breaching party will likely face sanction, have to pay attorney’s fees, and may even have a “double penalty” on the marital balance sheet when it comes down to dividing marital assets. Cliche notwithstanding, honesty is the best policy, and in light of recent cases, such as Marriage of Fossum (to be discussed later in this blog), dishonesty comes with a hefty price.