Family Court Retains Jurisdiction After Divorce Judgment for Certain Claims

old-courthouse-745827-m.jpgIn some cases after a divorce judgment has been handed down, and a marriage is officially dissolved, one party may discover that an “ex” has fraudulently concealed marital property, something that should have been divided equally under community property principles. Fortunately, under California law, the family court maintains jurisdiction so that parties may attempt to recoup property and other assets that are rightfully theirs. There are many nuances and legal interpretations to sort through when attempting to recover property and assets that are due. If you are facing a divorce or any legal issue related to the division of marital property, it is imperative that you contact an experienced San Diego family law attorney as soon as possible. A local attorney can proactively seek to protect your rights to property in divorce.

As described above, under section 2556 of the state code, the court has continuing jurisdiction to award community estate assets or community estate liabilities that have not been previously adjudicated by a judgment in the proceeding. In a recent case, the wife sought relief from a trial court, claiming that her ex-husband fraudulently concealed the community property character of the house in which they lived during the marriage. In this case, the court found that exclusive jurisdiction lay with the family court, which had retained jurisdiction over the issues concerning the division of property.

Here, the couple got married in 1981 and separated in December 1986. In the spring of 1986, prior to the separation, the wife went to Alabama for eight weeks for Army basic training. When she returned to California, her husband told her that he rented a house for them, when in fact he had purchased the house. The documents related to the purchase later revealed that he bought the property as an “unmarried man.” When the husband asked for a divorce, the proposed marital settlement agreement listed various items of property that they owned, but it failed to include the residence. The wife relied on the husband’s representation of assets and signed the agreement.

The divorce judgment and division of property based on the marital settlement agreement were entered in September 1987. Some years later, the wife learned that her ex-husband had lied during the divorce proceedings. In 2011, she obtained documents revealing that her former husband had purchased rather than rented the house. While she filed a motion with the family court that originally handled the dissolution action, on two separate occasions, her attorney did not appear and she failed to provide sufficient evidence of the purchase and sale of the house.

She next sought relief from a superior court, alleging fraud and breach of fiduciary duty. That court, however, found that the family court had reserved jurisdiction, and therefore the superior court did not have jurisdiction to hear the claims. The wife appealed. The court of appeals affirmed the decision, essentially finding that in the absence of a brief supporting the continuing viability of an equitable cause of action in a matter involving community property allegedly omitted from a family law judgment, the court would not address the issue. While this is an unpublished decision and may not be cited to or relied upon by parties in future cases, the court’s discussion pertaining to the history of Family Code section 2556 may serve to inform later opinions under similar facts.

As we can see from this case, divorce proceedings can impact each party’s financial condition going forward. To preserve your rights, it is critical that you reach out to an experienced family law attorney from the local area.

Roy M. Doppelt has been representing parties involved in family law disputes for more than 20 years. Doppelt & Forney serves clients throughout Southern California, including San Diego, Encinitas, La Jolla, and Chula Vista. For a free consultation, contact Doppelt & Forney through our website, or give us a call toll-free at (800) ROY IS IT (769-4748).

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