How the Marital Home Is Divided in a California Divorce (Case Study)


Recently, our team here at Joel S. Seidel & Associates represented an appellant, Greg Mohler, in his appeal of a judgment made by a trial court in a property division case. Ultimately, the court ended up vacating the previous order and ruling in favor of Greg's appeal.

The case, which concerns how property, such as the marital home, is divided in a property division case, may be of interest to individuals going through a divorce. In this blog, we'll present a simplified version of the case. If you're interested in finding the full case, you can read it here. 

Case Background

Our case concerns two parties: Greg Mohler (the appellant our firm represented) and his ex-wife, Jodie E. Mohler, the respondent.

Before marrying Jodie, Greg bought a home in February of 1995 for $168,000. In September 1998, Greg and Jodie got married, and lived in the house for over 12 years. During that time, they jointly contributed $56,557 to pay the principal on the property's mortgage.

In July of 2011, Jodie and Greg separated. Greg then continued to live in the home for another six years post-separation, paying for the entirety of the mortgage, upkeep, and other related property-related expenses using his own separate income. During this time, Jodie did not contribute financially to the home.

Under the Moore/Marsden calculation, in California, if two parties contribute equity to an asset (like a home), then both parties are entitled to a portion of that asset reflective of the value they contributed.

For example, let's say a person purchases a property on their own for $100,000. They then get married and begin paying for the principal on that property with their new spouse. For every $1,000 the couple jointly contributes to that property, the community (the couple's shared stake in the home) would get a 1% interest in that property.

When Jodie and Greg separated, the community (Jodie and Greg) jointly owned 33.6% of the property. The rest of the property (66.4%) was Greg's sole property.

However, at the time of the divorce in 2017, the court ruled as though both Jodie and Greg had been contributing to the property during the six years they were separated. As a result, the court ruled that the community owned 64.9% of the property at the time of the divorce.

At the time of the divorce, the value of the property had increased from $185,000 (the initial buying price) to $530,000, an equity gain of $345,000.

Since the court ruled that the community owned 64.9% of the property under the Moore/Marsden calculation, the court awarded the community $332,944. The court then ruled to equitably divide that amount between the parties, giving the rest to Greg as his separate property.

Our Argument

Because Jodie did not contribute financially to the house during the six years after the separation, we argued that the court failed to correctly apply the Moore/Marsden calculation.

Instead, we contended that the court should have used the Moore/Marsden value calculated at the time of separation (33.6%) instead of the value determined at the time of divorce (64.9%). Applying the Moors/Marsden calculation to the property for the six-year separation made little sense since Jodie didn't contribute to the property at all in that time.

We argued that the court should use the Watts calculation to determine how much the community's stake in the property increased over the separation (in other words, how much more than 33.6% the community would receive). Using the Watts calculation would more accurately reflect that Greg was the sole financial contributor to the property during the six-year separation.

The Result

Ultimately, the court accepted our argument and ruled in Greg's favor. It vacated the previous order and recalculated the community stake in the house using the Watts calculation for the six-year separation, instead of the Moore/Marsden calculation.

As a result, Greg received a more equitable judgment that accurately reflected his sole financial contribution to the property.

Property division cases can be complex, and the court may not always apply the law correctly. That's why it's important to have an experienced property division lawyer by your side.

At Joel S. Seidel & Associates, our divorce attorneys in the San Fernando Valley have the tools to help you navigate your property division case.

To arrange a consultation with our firm, contact us online or via phone at (818) 435-3773.

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