title issues in divorce

What Happens If I Place My Wife's Name On Title to My Home and We Later Divorce?

Q. If I put my wife on TITLE to my RESIDENCE does she get half if we DIVORCE?

A. If you place your wife on title for any reason you run the risk that in the event of later divorce she will have some claim to the house, but not necessarily half.

Your question deals with the law of "transmutations"; a transmutation is a change in the character of property from separate to community property, or could include a change from community to separate property. These are complicated issues and very fact specific, so each situation (even each transaction) must be analyzed separately.

Whenever you change the form of title to a type of property that has titles (i.e., real property, automobiles, bank accounts) to add a person you run the risk of inadvertently transmuting the character of the property. People rarely intend this, but it happens quite commonly.

However, when an interspousal transfer unfairly advantages one spouse, there is a presumption that the transaction was induced by undue influence; however, this presumption may not apply if both parties ertr advantaged by the transaction. Marriage of Burkle (2006) 139 Cal.App.4th 712. It is the burden of proof of the party who was advantaged to show that the disadvantaged spouse's action was freely and voluntarily made, with full knowledge of all the facts, and with a complete understanding of the effect of the transaction. Marriage of Matthews (2005) 133 Cal.App.4th 624.

Where a valid transmutation occurs (and deed transfers are presumptively valid), there still remains what is known as a Family Code section 2640 tracing right of reimbursement. This is a continuing separate property interest that belongs to you - assuming you do not and did not waive that reimbursement in clear separate writing. This is the separate property equity that exists as of the date of the new deed, into the future.

So, assuming on the date of marriage you place the home you received in your last divorce (btw, why are you getting remarried without a premarital agreement?) into joint tenancy with wife number 2. On that date the equity in that home is 100% yours and there is no Moore-Marsden effect to consider. Say you have $100,000 in equity.

In this simple example, absent a new transaction or a later refinance, you will continue to have a $100,000 separate property reimbursement claim in your home for all time, and in the event of a subsequent divorce, assuming at the time of the divorce sufficient evidence exists that allows you to prove the $100,000. That will typically simply consist of your mortgage balance on that date, and your testimony as to the fair market value of the property on that date (or an expert's opinion of value), with the difference being your 2640 reimbursement. You do not receive interest on that, but it does come "off the top" before the remaining equity - which would now be all community, is divided. The difference to note here is that if you had not deeded the property, it would remain your separate property subject to a Moore-Marsden reimbursement to community which usually is going to be smaller than the reverse situation.

To read more about how the law affects division of your home or other property, follow this link.

Thurman W. Arnold III, C.F.L.S.