California Court Discusses Characterizing Property in Divorce Actions

Under California law, any property obtained during the course of a marriage is recognized as community property, which means that it belongs to both spouses equally and is subject to division in divorce proceedings. The presumption may be overturned, though, if a party can show that an asset was obtained via separate property and did not change from its original characterization, as shown in a recent opinion delivered by a California court in a divorce action. If you intend to file a petition for dissolution and you have concerns about how it may affect your property rights, it is in your best interest to confer with a Bay Area divorce attorney to discuss your options.

Factual and Procedural History of the Case

Allegedly, the parties married in December 2013 and bought a home the following year. The deed for the home was in the husband’s name, and the down payment was made using the husband’s separate property. Additionally, the wife signed a quitclaim deed. The wife filed a divorce action in 2018, and the marriage was terminated the following year. During a trial on reserved issues in 2021, the court addressed the issue of the characterization of the marital home.

It is reported that during the trial, the wife testified that the husband told her that she could not be on the deed, as she did not have a social security number, and asked her to sign a document at a title company, which was most likely the quitclaim deed. Based on the wife’s testimony and when the home was purchased, the court deemed it to be community property and divided the equity in the home between the parties after reimbursing the husband for the down payment. The husband appealed.

Characterizing Property Obtained During a Marriage

On appeal, the court found in favor of the husband and reversed the trial court ruling. In doing so, it explained that while property purchased during a marriage is presumed to be community property, the presumption could be rebutted if the property was traceable to a separate property source. Here, the origin of the home could be traced back to the separate property of the husband in the form of the down payment.

The court further explained that accurately determining the character or a property also requires an evaluation of whether it changed over time. Under California law, the character of a property could only be changed via an express writing, as set forth in Section 852. As no writing was executed in the subject case, the nature of the property did not change. Thus, the court reversed the trial court ruling.

Talk to an Experienced California Family Law Attorney

While assets obtained during a marriage are generally considered the property of both spouses, there are exceptions to the general rule, and it is important to clarify property rights prior to finalizing a divorce. If you want to learn more about how a divorce may impact your property rights, it is wise to talk to a family law attorney as soon as possible. The experienced family law attorneys of Bay Area Family Law Center are well-versed in what it takes to obtain favorable outcomes in divorce actions, and if you retain our services, we will advocate zealously on your behalf. You can contact us via our online form or by calling us at 925-258-2020 to schedule a meeting.

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