Characterization of Property in Divorce Actions Explained by California Court

Pursuant to California law, community property is divided equally between the parties in a divorce action, while separate assets remain the sole property of the owner spouse. Thus, it is critical that Courts characterize property accurately, and if a Court mischaracterizes an asset, the aggrieved party may have grounds for pursuing an appeal, as demonstrated in a recent California opinion issued in a divorce case. If you or your spouse intend to end your marriage and you have a question about how it could impact your property rights, it is shrewd to talk to a knowledgeable San Diego divorce attorney to obtain more information.

Factual History of the Case

It is alleged that the husband and wife married in December 2013. Ten months later, they purchased a home. The husband paid the $75,000 down payment for the home with his separate property, and the deed to the property was in the husband’s name only. The wife executed a quitclaim deed as well after the husband reportedly told her she could not be on the title because she did not have a social security number and should sign a document she was given, presumably the quitclaim deed.

Reportedly, the wife filed for divorce in July 2018. Following a trial in September 2021, the Trial Court ruled that the marital home was presumptively community property based on the wife’s testimony and the fact that it was purchased during the marriage. Thus, it set aside the quitclaim deed and, after subtracting the amount of the down payment, divided the equity in the home between the parties. The husband appealed.

Characterization of Property in Divorce Actions

On appeal, the husband argued that the Trial Court erred in deeming the marital home community property. The Court agreed and reversed the Trial Court ruling. Specifically, the Court found that while the home was purchased during the marriage, it was acquired using the husband’s separate property. Further, no transmutation occurred to change the nature of the home from separate to community property. The Court clarified that under California’s law pertaining to transmutation, the character of an asset could only be altered via an express writing. As no such writing existed in the subject case, no transmutation occurred. Thus, the Court reversed the trial court ruling.

Confer with a Seasoned San Diego Family Law Attorney

Whether an asset is community or separate property can be a point of contention in divorce actions, and parties will typically rely on the Courts to make an accurate assessment. If you wish to file for divorce and want to learn more about how the decision will affect your finances, it is in your best interest to confer with an attorney as soon as possible. The seasoned San Diego lawyers of Doppelt and Forney APLC are proficient at navigating the legal and emotional complexities of divorce proceedings, and we can inform you of your rights and set forth persuasive arguments in your favor. You can contact us by calling us at 800-769-4748 or using our online form to set up a free and confidential meeting.

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