Apparently it is Better to Give Than to Receive

sterling-stiviano.jpgThe Donald Sterling and V. Stiviano saga just won’t go away. In a Statement of Tentative Decision released by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Richard Furin, he ordered Stiviano to return the community property “gifts” she received from Donald Sterling.

According to the decision, which Stiviano is expected to appeal, she must return approximately $2.6 million dollars in cash, cars, and real estate she received from Mr. Sterling. Back before Stiviano leaked the secret recording of Donald Sterling making racist remarks, which ultimately resulted in him being forced to sell the Clippers, Shelley Sterling filed suit against Stiviano for return of these “gifts.” Her reason…simple; the gifts Donald made to Stiviano were not his to make. They belonged to the Sterling community, and he had no right to make the gifts.

Shelly Sterling focused her action against Stiviano using Family Law statutes of joint management and control as well as the prohibition against giving gifts to third parties without the written consent of the other spouse. [Family Code Section 1100]. This is a common argument made by one spouse against the other during a divorce action; however I have never seen it made against the third party seeking return of the gift. In the typical case, the spouse who made the unauthorized gift is charged with the value of the gift in the division of the community estate. In this case, Shelly Sterling filed a separate civil complaint against Stiviano seeking return of the gifts on equitable grounds. In either case, the party seeking return of the gifts from a third party or to charge the other spouse with the gift, must prove the amount of the gift, when it was given, and that the other side did not authorize the gift to me made.

Sterling-stiviano-gifts.jpgThe Court found that Shelly Sterling met her burden and ordered Stiviano to return the gifts. [It’s important to note, many of the gifts were for cash or cars which Stiviano has either spent or sold, so she will have to come up with the cash to satisfy the Judgment.] As for the house…well that has been transferred to the Sterling Family Trust who is now the legal owner.

This was a unique approach taken by the court; that is ordering the gifts, or their cash equivalent, to be returned by the mistress and not charged to the cheating spouse. The reason is simple; the Sterlings are not divorcing each other and were married during the time period the gifts were made. One important factor, which I will not discuss in this blog, is the Court made a finding that Donald and Shelly were not separated at the time these gifts were made. That was a big part of the Court’s ruling. I will be very interested in the opinion of the Court of Appeals on the very novel ruling by Judge Furin.

What does that mean to you as a family law litigant…it means you have another party to seek relief from if you learn your spouse has been lavishing gifts on a third party during a period you were married. This is, at least for now. We will have to see what the Appellate Court has to say if/when Stiviano appeals the Judge’s ruling.

Please contact us if you are considering a divorce from your spouse, a legal separation, or have questions regarding child custody and visitation. Nancy J. Bickford is the only Certified Family Law Specialist (CFLS) in San Diego County who is also a licensed Certified Public Accountant (CPA) with a Master of Business Administration (MBA). Don’t settle for less when determining your rights. Call 858-793-8884 in Del Mar, Carmel Valley, North County or San Diego.

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