“Does My Ex-Spouse Have An Interest In The House I Bought Before Marriage?”

This is actually a very common scenario. One party to a marriage owns a house before marriage, and at the time of the divorce, the spouse tries to claim an interest in the property. DO they actually have an interest?

The answers is that in most situations, they do have an interest. However, it is not a 50-50 interest, as it would be if the house had been purchased during the marriage with community funds.

How much is the interest? Well, that depends on the amount of the principle of the mortgage that was paid down during the marriage. The spouse is entitled to 50% of the pay down on the principle, plus 50% of any increase in value based on that percentage.

This principle of division comes from two California cases referred to as Moore and Marsden, and you may hear lawyers talking about a Moore/Marsden analysis.

A short example will show how this works. Assume that a house cost $100,000. Husband purchased it before marriage and put $10,000 down as a down payment. He then paid down an additional $10,000 prior to the marriage. After marriage, he put down $10,000 on the principle in month mortgage payments out of his earnings, which are community property. The community interest in the property is therefore 10%, meaning if the property has not increased in value during the marriage, the wife’s interest is $5,000. However, assume that the house was worth $100,000 at the time of the marriage, but then increased $100,000 during the marriage, making the property worth $200,000 at the date of separation. In that case, the community is entitled to 10% of that $100,000, or an additional $10,000, of which $5,000 is the wife’s interest in the property. As you can see, if the community has done a significant pay down on the property, the interest will be higher and a higher percentage of the increase will be wife’s property.

When dealing with these issues, it is important to get full sets of mortgage statements to show the amounts owed on the mortgage at different periods of time, as well as obtaining an appraisal that gives both the value as of the date of the marriage and the date of separation.

DISCLAIMER: All legal principles quoted are valid as of the date of writing in the State of California. However, you should NEVER base your actions on a legal article, blog, or internet story, as facts in real life are complicated. You should have your case evaluated by an attorney experienced in the area of law needed for your case. In addition, there are often exceptions and potential changes to results that occur due to facts that you may think are trivial or unimportant. This article should not be taken in any way as legal advice on your specific legal matter.

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