Does My Spouse Have Any Right to My House if I Owned It Before Marriage?

Under California Community Property Law, the short answer is likely YES, even if your spouse was never added to title.

This may seem surprising to you, but this result is based on the general premise of California Community Property Law that anything earned by either party during marriage is 100% community property.  This means that any earnings made by either party during marriage would be split down the middle in a divorce / dissolution proceeding.  However, if you bought the home prior to getting married, you might naturally be thinking to yourself, “Hey, but I owned this house before marriage, that means the house is entirely mine!”  This is a valid thought, but what if your spouse were to reply, “But I helped to make all those mortgage payments every month, I should get something for those payments!”   

The law, in this case, would agree with your spouse.  As long as the mortgage payments made during marriage were made with community property earnings, i.e. money that was made by one or the other spouse (or both) during the marriage, then the community has gained an interest in the home, just as your spouse argued.  The law reasons that because money belonging to your spouse was spent on the home's mortgage to pay down principle, even though you owned the home prior to marriage, your spouse has now established an interest in the home through the mortgage payments.

You might be thinking to yourself, “OK, I understand my spouse has gained an interest in the home by helping pay down the mortgage principle, but it would not be fair for my spouse to get half the house, because we only paid down $15,000.00 in principle during our marriage!”  This is a valid point and the law agrees with you, at least in part.  Your spouse is not entitled to half of the house simply because he or she made payments on the mortgage principle. 

Your spouse is entitled to a reimbursement for half of the principle pay down during the marriage (i.e. date of marriage to date of separation).  You may now be thinking, “Thank God, I am fine with giving him the $7,500.00 and then I will own the house free and clear!”  Well, not so fast.  In addition to a dollar for dollar reimbursement for half the principle pay down on the mortgage, your spouse has also gained an equity interest in the home by helping with the mortgage payments during the marriage.   

How much equity in the home your spouse has acquired involves a technical equation that each attorney here at The Moreno Family Law Firm thoroughly understands and is ready to explain.  This calculation may change even more drastically if there has been a refinance on the home, or if one spouse was later added to title.  It is important to know your spouse's total interest in the home so that you can carefully evaluate what to do with the home at the time of divorce / dissolution.  It is also a time sensitive question, and, depending on the market, it may be in your best financial interest to act quickly.  Call (408) 266-9011 to make an appointment today to speak to one of our expert associates who can guide you through this technical process!

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