California Appeals Court Reverses Marital Estate Division Order That Including Duplicative Award to the Wife

In a case in which the couple has considerable assets, one of the bigger challenges can be dividing the community estate. In one divorce that involved a high-value community estate and allegations of hidden assets, the Sixth District Court of Appeal reversed a trial court’s order that divided the estate. The trial court’s division improperly gave the wife duplicative benefits regarding certain assets when the statute did not allow the wife to receive such benefits.

The couple in this case was a pair who had been married for roughly a decade when the husband sought a divorce in 2009. The couple “enjoyed a high standard of living.” Their marital estate included a ranch in Tulare County, where they had a horse barn and stables. The wife’s “hobby/vocation” of raising and training horses also included horses and equipment in addition to the stables and barn. By the time they divorced, the couple owned the ranch (plus a second one), as well as “15 horses, nine vehicles, six motorcycles, two Airstream travel trailers, an airplane, a boat, three horse trailers, and three tractors.”

Additionally, the husband had certain luxury vehicles and brokerage accounts. Some of these assets were things that the wife accused the husband of hiding. After a hearing, the court entered its order, which prompted an appeal from the husband. While the husband’s appeal addressed many issues, one item that the appeals court deemed persuasive was his argument that the trial judge made improper duplicative awards. In this case, the trial court awarded the wife 50% of the community property. On top of that, it awarded her half of the proceeds of the husband’s sale of an $18,000 Porsche automobile and 100% of the income the husband received from his side business (which amounted to $58,000). By crafting its order this way, the trial court’s order had the effect of giving the wife her $9,000 from the Porsche sale and her half ($29,000) of the husband’s side business twice.

The wife built her argument around the husband’s alleged misconduct. She argued that the husband’s acts of improperly failing to disclose certain assets meant that any amounts awarded above 50% by the trial court should be properly considered to be penalties for the husband’s improper non-disclosure.

The appeals court sided with the husband, since the law simply doesn’t allow for a spouse to get two bites of the apple, even if the asset in question was one that the other spouse improperly didn’t disclose. The wronged spouse was entitled to receive an amount equal to one-half of the asset’s value, but if she did so (as with the Porsche in this case), the asset remained separate property, and “the claimant spouse would necessarily abandon the community interest in the asset.” The law was clear that a spouse in a situation similar to this wife’s situation could “either receive his or her 50 percent interest in the asset or an amount equal to that interest, but not both.”

In your divorce and marital estate division case, you need diligent and determined counsel representing your interests. The skilled San Diego divorce attorneys at Doppelt and Forney, APLC have been assisting clients throughout Southern California, including in San Diego, Encinitas, La Jolla, and Chula Vista, for many years. For a free consultation, reach out to Doppelt and Forney, APLC through our website or call toll-free at (800) ROY IS IT (769-4748).

More blog posts:

California Court Says Wife Can Pursue Claim for Community Assets Spent on Husband’s Property, San Diego Divorce Lawyer Blog, Nov. 1, 2016

California Court Rules Jointly Titled Investment Accounts are Community Property, San Diego Divorce Lawyer Blog, June 7, 2016

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