After our marriage in 1996, I moved into a house that was previously owned by my husband. We made it our marital home at my husband’s insistence. There was no prenuptial agreement, and we own it jointly. Now that we are getting a divorce, he says I owe him for equity obtained before marriage. Is this true?

The spouse who originally owned a separate property may have a tracing right of reimbursement for his or her separate property “contribution” to the now community property if no effective waiver has been executed (Fam.C. § 2640). The act of taking joint title during marriage triggers the Fam.C. § 2581 community property presumption upon marriage dissolution or legal separation. The presumption thus applies to separate property that is converted into husband and wife joint title property during marriage. In this scenario, the reimbursable contribution is the equity value of the property (or the contributing spouse’s interest in that equity value) at the time of its conversion to joint form.

Any “contributions” covered by the statute are reimbursable to the extent they are traced directly to a separate property. Subject to statutory limitations, the amount of reimbursement is measured by the value of the contributions at the time they were made [Fam.C. § 2640(b)].

Property settlements during marriage dissolution could be very complex and a lawyer who is an expert in divorce cases could provide invaluable guidance and counsel, to it would be a good decision to work with such an expert.

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