A big question in many California divorce cases is what happens to the family home. Property held by spouses during the course of a marriage is generally split evenly between them in divorce under the state’s community property system. Still, there are a number of ways to handle the issue, including by allowing the divorcing spouses to work together to come up with a mutually agreeable solution. Even when that happens, legal issues can spring up after the agreement is reached. California’s Second District Court of Appeals recently took on some of those questions.
When Husband and Wife divorced in 2010, they agreed to share legal custody of their two children, with primary physical custody of the kids going to Wife. They also agreed to split their assets, including the net equity in the family home in Covina. The court entered a stipulated judgment covering the terms of the agreement. The judgment made clear that Wife would be able to stay in the home until the kids reached the age of 18 or otherwise were no longer living there. It also obligated the spouses to immediately sell the home and split the proceeds if Wife did anything to “transfer, encumber or convey their interest in the said real property” without an agreement with Husband or court approval. In the event that happened, the judgment also gave Wife the opportunity to buy Husband’s interest in the property.
Husband went back to court in 2014, asking a judge to force Wife to sell the property. He said he signed a quitclaim deed over to Wife after she said she wanted to buy him out, but he added that she never sent him the money and had stopped communicating with him altogether. Wife also refused several requests to have the property inspected and appraised to determine its value, according to Husband. Wife countered by alleging that Husband said shortly after he was injured in a car accident that he wanted to sign the property over to her in order to take care of the kids. He later told Wife – according to Wife – that he’d given her the property so that he could qualify financially for Medi-Cal benefits related to the accident. The judge eventually sided with Husband, ordering the spouses to sell the home and split the proceeds.
The Second District affirmed the decision on appeal. The Court noted that the trial judge’s move to hear testimony from the spouses without putting them under oath during a hearing on the matter was “irregular.” It further observed, however, that Wife never asked the judge to take testimony under oath and never sought to cross-examine Husband during the proceedings. The Court explained that it’s a “fundamental principle of appellate review that objections must be raised in the trial court to preserve questions for review.”
The Second District also said the trial judge didn’t abuse his discretion by refusing to consider as evidence a video taken by the former spouses’ son in which Husband allegedly explained that he was transferring the property as part of a Medi-Cal fraud scheme. The problem, the Court said, is that Wife never actually offered to introduce the video as evidence and never provided any way to authenticate it.
As a result, the Court affirmed the decision ordering the spouses to sell the home.
Divorcing spouses can often save a lot of time, money, and stress by taking advantage of litigation alternatives, such as collaborative divorce and mediation. With offices throughout the Bay Area, divorce lawyer Lorna Jaynes provides innovative legal tools to resolve family law disputes without the bitterness and acrimony engendered by the adversarial process.
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