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Proving Fraud in California Divorce Cases – In re Marriage of Chau

Divorce proceedings are much like other types of litigation. As in other cases, divorcing spouses are required to provide each other with certain information during the course of the proceedings in order to make sure that each side knows what they are getting into. State law allows a judge to go back and undo a ruling if he or she finds that a spouse has withheld information about their income and assets or otherwise committed fraud. California’s Second District Court of Appeals recently took on a case involving this type of fraud allegation.

wedding ringWife filed for divorce from Husband in 2012, following some 24 years of marriage. The spouses entered into a marital settlement agreement, resolving how their property would be divided and waiving their rights to spousal support. Husband later opposed Wife’s request that the divorce court enter a judgment adopting the terms of the agreement. He argued that his attorney didn’t let him read the agreement and that the lawyer incorrectly told him that he wasn’t entitled to spousal support. The court eventually sided with Wife, adopting the agreement. Wife was awarded one of the couple’s homes, and Husband was awarded the other. He was also ordered to pay Wife $12,000 to make up the difference in value of the two properties.

Husband later asked the same court to set aside the decision, claiming that Wife had secured the agreement by fraud. He said in particular that Wife had hidden two vehicles that should have been considered the couple’s community property, didn’t disclose that she had been renting one of the properties to a tenant, and misrepresented the couple’s community interest in Wife’s 401k retirement savings account. The court declined Husband’s request, finding that it wasn’t filed within the six-month deadline provided by California law.

Reversing the decision on appeal, however, the Second District said the trial judge wrongly treated Husband’s motion to set aside the ruling as having been filed pursuant to Section 473 of the state Code of Civil Procedure. Section 473 allows courts to scrap an earlier judgment in the event it was based on a mistake, surprise, or “excusable neglect.” A motion to set aside a ruling under this section has to be filed within six months of the decision.

The appeals court said it appeared that Husband wasn’t looking to have the ruling set aside under Section 473. Instead, the Court said he was seeking to have the decision set aside pursuant to Family Code sections 2121 and 2122. Those sections allow a court to set aside a judgment based on fraud, and they do not come with the same filing deadlines. “[W]e conclude that the court’s order must be reversed, and that the request for an order should be reconsidered under the bases stated in the supporting memorandum,” the Court said.

If you’re considering a divorce or are grappling with child support and other issues in California, 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 wide variety of marital disputes. Call our office at (408) 297-0700 or contact us online to schedule a consultation.

Related blog posts:

Settlement Agreement Contract Disputes in California – In re Marriage of Wintemute and Soltan

Length of Marriage and Duty to Find Work in California Spousal Support Cases – In re Marriage of Swanson

Pre-Divorce Agreements and Financial Disclosures in California Divorce Cases – In re Marriage of Evans