California’s community property system generally works like this. Any property that you bring with you to a marriage is separate, and any property obtained by you or your spouse during the marriage is community property. The second category of assets usually gets split evenly between the spouses in the event of a divorce. There are some situations, however, in which separate property may become community property. These include when spouses execute documents changing the legal ownership of a home, for instance.
The state’s Fourth District Court of Appeals recently explained that sometimes that type of change still isn’t enough. This case is also a good example of the perils that face a person who tries to navigate the divorce courts without the representation of an experienced family law lawyer.
Husband and Wife were married for only 11 months before separating in 2012. Husband, a military officer, was deployed for seven of those months. Husband filed for divorce in February 2012, asking a court to treat his savings account and a property in Temecula obtained before the marriage as his separate property. He explained that he’d executed a power of attorney in favor of Wife before shipping off from San Diego. Husband said Wife used that power to change the title to the property so that the residence was their joint property rather than his sole property. Husband also said Wife drained $20,000 from his bank account – money he had accumulated before the marriage – after she asked for a divorce.
Wife argued that Husband had given her permission to refinance the loan, which required her to be listed as a joint tenant. She also said that she had an interest in the property based on various improvements that she made to the residence during the marriage.
Wife was represented by at least five different lawyers in the protracted litigation that followed. She eventually represented herself, and a trial judge ruled that the Temecula residence was Husband’s separate property. It appointed an executor to transfer the full title back to Husband as a result.
The Fourth District affirmed the decision on appeal, finding that there was substantial evidence to support the lower court’s finding that the residence was separate property. It said Wife failed to show that she made any mortgage payments on the property during the marriage. Wife claimed that she should have been allowed a continuance to come up with that evidence, as well as proof of the property improvements, after one of her attorneys withdrew from the case. But the Court said she “failed to exercise reasonable diligence” by requesting a continuance when it became clear that she was going to switch lawyers. “The court had already warned her that she would have to represent herself if she came to court without an attorney,” the Fourth District said.
Property division is just one of the many complicated issues that can come up in a California divorce case. If you’re considering a divorce or are grappling with community property and other issues in California, contact San Jose divorce lawyer 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 wide variety of marital disputes. Call our office at (408) 297-0700 or contact us online to schedule a consultation.
Related blog posts: