Articles Posted in Property Division


“Race to the courthouse” is an informal name used to describe the rule in some jurisdictions that the first conveyance instrument, mortgage, lien or judgment to be filed with the appropriate recorder’s office, will have priority and prevail over documents filed subsequently, irrespective of the date of execution of the documents at issue.  In popular culture, being the party to file a lawsuit first is always portrayed as preferable.  But like most things on TV, they just don’t hold up in real life; except maybe in Hollywood. (Hollywood is hard to call “real life” in any case.)

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The competency of a party can have profound effects in family law in California. We will explore that a little in this post.

First of all, whether or not a party is competent can be relevant as to the validity of the marriage contract itself. Pursuant to Family Code section 2210(c), a marriage is voidable if either party to the contract is of unsound mind. In other words, if they are not competent to enter the marital contract, the marriage can later be annulled. Continue reading


An interesting decision out of an Australian Federal Circuit Court this month caught our eye when a judge ruled that a man was entitled to only 1/3 of the marital estate because he had been diagnosed with terminal cancer and was estimated to live for only one more year. In this case, after a 30-year marriage, the parties had accumulated approximately $1.5 million in assets that had to be divided in their divorce.

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In two previous posts, we discussed the very important Moore/Marsden formula, which is the formula that determines the community interest in real property when the community pays down mortgage principal on the separate property of another spouse. In the first post, we discussed the basic formula, while noting that in the age of the low interest rate, the basic formula is almost never used due to frequent refinancing. In the second post, we discussed how the formula applies to improvements. In this post, we will address one of the most common adjustments that need to be made to the formula (that usually occurs after a refinance): How do you calculate the community interest in one spouse’s separate property after the other spouse is added on title?

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Famous clothing designer, Karl Lagerfeld once said of photographs, “What I like about photographs is that they capture a moment that’s gone forever, impossible to reproduce.” Mr. Lagerfeld captured in that simple quote what it is we humans love so much about photographs; capturing moments.  Until scientists are able to recreate a time machine, photographs and home videos are the only way we can go back in time to relive moments.

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The lender intent rule in California family law is, at once, one of the most consequential and one of the most unfathomable rules.

The general idea is this: if a loan is incurred during the marriage, that loan, and any proceeds acquired with said loan, will presumed to be a community obligation/property. The burden then falls on the party seeking to show that the loan is separate to produce evidence to that effect. What exactly is that burden? Well, therein lies the rub.

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Previously, we discussed the basics of the Moore/Marsden calculations, which is how the Court determines the community interest in the home when community funds pay down mortgage principal of a separate property home. The Moore/Marsden formula provides for the community to receive not only a reimbursement for principal paydown, but an interest in the appreciation of the home as well.

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It is no secret that the cost of higher education in America is HIGH. Each year, the average amount of student loans borrowed increases, as does the number of students taking out educational loans. A 2013 study done by the One Wisconsin Institute found, after surveying 61,762 people, that the average length of repayment on student loan debt is 21.1 years. And, they noted, that this is typically longer for those with advanced degrees. Unfortunately as law school graduates, we know the harsh reality of this all too well. But I digress! At any rate, although a standard federal repayment plan is 10-years, it is clear that this is not always realistic. Taking into consideration the available 20-year federal loan forgiveness option, it is becoming more and more reasonable to expect that people will bear the burden of student debt for as long as 20 years.

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Dividing pensions and retirement plans can be a very complicated aspect of divorce. The rules that apply to social security benefits do not make things any less complicated.

Pension and retirement plans acquired during the marriage are community property just like any other community property. Pensions and retirement plans usually need to be divided through the use of a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (called a QDRO) or Domestic Relations Order (called a DRO). What about social security benefits? How are those divided?

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There is a saying I use when talking to clients about difficult issues in Family Law Case; “The word ‘fair” only appears in the Family Code in a discussion about attorney fees.” The stark reality is this…Family Law is not fair. It can be equitable and it can be reasonable, but fair it is not. Case in point:

Imagine for a minute that you work for the federal government. This was your first and only job, and your first day was on the exact day you were married (You are a very dedicated employee.) You also separated from your spouse on the exact day you retired 30 years later. Continue reading