In many divorce cases, separating spouses are able to avoid much of the stress and cost of litigation by agreeing to resolve various issues like those related to custody, support, and property distribution ahead of time. As California’s Fourth District Court of Appeals recently made clear, however, these agreements become binding once approved by a judge. That means they can be enforced by a court, even decades after the agreements are finalized.
Husband and Wife had two young children – ages three and five – when they divorced in 1993. They agreed that the children would live with their mother and that the couple would list their home for sale with a mutually agreeable realtor. They also agreed to split any proceeds of the sale of the home, which at the time was worth $16,000 less than the price at which they’d bought the property, if the property was sold within 90 days. If the home wasn’t sold during that time, Husband and Wife further agreed that all “right, title and interest” in the property would go to Wife and that she would be responsible for paying taxes, insurance, and mortgage obligations.
A funny thing happened after the divorce. “As the trial court would find some 20 years later in the hearing giving rise to this appeal, [Husband] prevented the sale by the expedient of simply not signing the necessary paperwork,” according to the Fourth District. Instead, Wife stayed in the home and made all of the necessary payments. Nevertheless, Husband’s name remained on the title to the property, and he eventually attempted to transfer his interest in the home to his second wife after they divorced in 2011. Wife became aware of this arrangement when the second wife contacted her to see if Wife was interested in buying out the second wife’s interest in the property.
A trial court later granted Wife’s request to set aside the supposed transfer of Husband’s interest in the home and awarded the entire property to her. On appeal, the second wife claimed that Wife wasn’t entitled to full ownership of the property because it was never on the market for the required 90-day period.
Siding with Wife, the Fourth District said the 90-day period had effectively run and the home therefore belonged to her. “Everything was supposed to be wrapped up, one way or the other, in 90 days,” the Court observed. “Either [Wife] would be awarded the house in its entirety or there would be a miracle in which the house would be sold to a third party with net — positive — proceeds in which [Husband] could share,” it added. “[Husband] chose to preempt even the possibility of that miracle, meaning the award to [Wife] was the only possible outcome.”
As a result, the Fourth District said the trial court simply accomplished in 2013 what should have been done in 1993. It transferred the property to Wife.
If you’re considering a divorce in California, it’s important to seek the counsel of an experienced divorce attorney. Contact San Jose divorce attorney John S. Yohanan. With more than 30 years of experience, Mr. Yohanan is an accomplished family law attorney who has helped a number of clients resolve a property disposition and a wide variety of other issues on optimal terms. Call our office at (408) 297-0700 or contact us online to schedule a consultation.
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