In California, the baseline presumption is that assets owned before marriage remain the separate property of each spouse, but wealth acquired during marriage becomes community property, regardless of whose name is on the title to property.However, assets can be transmuted under California law from community property to separate property, or from separate property to community property. In a divorce, title and other documentation may make an important difference in whether a given asset is characterized as community or separate. This is a complex and controversial area of the law, in which your attorney’s proficiency is critical to your interests. Schoenberg Family Law Group, P.C., successfully secures and defends against transmutation claims and credits.
Changing The Character Of Separate Or Community Property
In the strictest sense, transmutation occurs by formal agreement or transfer between spouses that alters the character of property. In property division, it may be necessary to prove or disprove that property was transmuted in one of the ways described below.
- From separate property to community property — For example, both spouses sign their name to the deed of a house initially purchased by one spouse before marriage.
- From community property to separate property — For example, a couple starts a business together but transfers it into the wife’s name.
- From separate property of one spouse to separate property of the other — For example, a wife signs her inheritance over to her husband.
Transmutation is not limited only to titled assets, such as businesses and professional practices; the marital home or other real estate; retirement accounts, investments, and joint bank accounts; and trusts and inheritances. Technically, spouses can transmute assets only in writing or by other express declaration. The courts are protective of the purportedly relinquishing spouse, and will seek assurances that this spouse conducted the alleged transmutation with informed consent; i.e., absent coercion or fraud. Our divorce lawyers have vast experience proving proper, informed transmutation of property, as well as, on the other side, demonstrating ignorance or other lack of intent to change the character of the asset.
We also handle cases involving the commingling of assets which can result in a transmutation. For instance, if a wife contributes money to the substantial improvement of a house that was titled in her husband’s name before marriage, she may be entitled to reimbursement for the amount she put into the house, plus her half of the
appreciation in value of the house, which is his separate property. There is room to interpret the extent of commingling, and the appropriate compensation for such contributions to another’s asset.
“I feel profoundly grateful for the way I was treated and my marriage resolved. As I move forward with my new life, I would wish that anyone who is going through a divorce have as good an experience as I have. I would recommend the Schoenberg Family Law Group to anyone who is going through a divorce.”
— A.G. (Read more client testimonials.)
Transmuted Assets And Other Complex Property Division Matters
Debra Schoenberg and her team are adept at identifying commingled assets and tracing separate property. These are tricky issues that hinge on legal precedent, technical arguments, and supporting evidence. Our knowledge of the law and attention to detail help our clients achieve favorable rulings in these complex disputes.
To speak with experienced San Francisco attorneys about the transmutation of assets in your California divorce, please contact us online or call us at 415.834.1120.