The California Family Code governs many aspects of divorce proceedings. In many respects, the various provisions operate to place the parties on “equal footing.” Courts interpreting these laws are guided by overriding principles of fairness and equality. The statutes cover many important matters, such as child custody, spousal support, and the division of marital property. If you are facing divorce, it is important to understand how these local state laws will affect your particular circumstances. An experienced family law attorney from the San Diego area can evaluate your case, with an eye toward protecting your interests and achieving the best possible settlement.
California is a “community property” state. This means that any property a couple acquires during the marriage belongs jointly to the “community,” or both people. For that matter, any debt acquired by the couple while they are married also belongs to both parties jointly. Upon divorce, a court typically ascertains and divides the marital property evenly. Since the division of marital assets and debts is a tremendous part of a divorce proceeding, having the potential to affect the parties’ separate futures, it is important to protect your rights early in the matter.
In a recent California divorce case, In re Marriage of Wright, the court reviewed a wife’s efforts to modify a portion of the divorce judgment against her former husband. The particular provision concerned the allocation of certain community property assets. Under the divorce judgment that was filed in June 2013, the husband was awarded “all assets” in his possession. The wife appealed from the judgment, arguing that the provision should refer only to “all disclosed assets” because she claimed that there was a “high likelihood” of undisclosed assets in this case.
In reviewing the matter, the court of appeals noted that the wife’s appeal is based on the assumption that the wording of the judgment permits her ex-husband to receive as separate property any community property assets that he did not disclose during the divorce proceedings. But according to the court, under California law, a spouse’s right to community property arises at the time the assets are acquired. Furthermore, § 2556 of the California Family Code provides (in pertinent part): “In a proceeding for dissolution of marriage, for nullity of marriage, or for legal separation of the parties, the court has continuing jurisdiction to award community estate assets or community estate liabilities to the parties that have not been previously adjudicated by a judgment in the proceeding.” According to the court, any property left “unadjudicated” by a divorce judgment is still subject to future litigation. Essentially, the provision that the wife complained of cannot “transmute” or change the character of the assets that were community property at the time of the divorce judgment, but that were not actually disposed of in the award.
While this opinion was not certified for publication, and it may not be relied upon or cited to by parties in future cases, the underlying legal analysis could serve to inform future family law decisions. Regarding the division of marital assets, it is important to fully understand how the California statutes could affect your divorce case. The best way to approach any divorce matter is to contact a local and experienced family law lawyer. Roy M. Doppelt has been representing parties involved in family law disputes for more than 20 years. Doppelt and Forney, APLC serves clients throughout Southern California, including San Diego, Encinitas, La Jolla, and Chula Vista. For a free consultation, contact Doppelt and Forney, APLC through our website, or give us a call toll-free at (800) ROY IS IT (769-4748).
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