A common situation that comes up during a dissolution matter is dividing the equity in a house that was owned by one spouse prior to marriage. In most cases the non-owning spouse is entitled to receive a portion of the equity in the house. The general rule in California dissolutions is that all community property (property from the marriage) is to be divided equally. The complication in this situation is that at part of the loan was paid outside of the marriage and part was paid during the marriage. To make matters even more complicated, the value of homes generally fluctuate constantly throughout the parties marriage and the divorce process.
Two California cases (In Re Marriage of Moore and In Re Marriage of Marsden) have established a method for dealing with these issues. Simply put, the portion of the equity of the house which came from the marriage will be split equally and the portion of equity from before or after marriage belongs to the spouse who owns the property. To determine the correct apportionment of these two, the courts look to the value and loan balance at four different dates: (1) Date of Purchase, (2) Date of Marriage, (3) Date of Separation, and (4) Date of Trial. With this information correct percentage and values owed to each spouse can be determined.
Generally, the assistance of a real estate appraiser is required to determine these values. Further, close examination of the loan documentation is also required. If the house has been re-financed at any point in time, additional information and documentation has to be reviewed. In many cases, the parties can hire an agreed appraiser to determine these values and can agree to a fair buyout amount. In other cases the value may be contested and it may be necessary to have the court decide this value. Either way, it is important when dealing with this issue to contact a skilled attorney to assist you in navigating this complicated claim. You may contact our office to discuss this issue further with one of our attorneys.