Presumption of Undue Influence in California Dissolution (Divorce) Cases

The presumption of undue influence in California dissolution (divorce) cases is the topic of this article. The presumption of undue influence is due to California Family Code Section 721(b), it arises whenever any interspousal transaction advantages one spouse over the other. It is also applicable in California legal separation cases as well.

The confidential relationship between spouses imposes a duty of the highest good faith and fair dealing on each spouse, and neither may take any unfair advantage of the other. See Family Code Section 721(b).

While the general rule in California is that record title determines ownership, that is not always the case as will be shown in this article.

In a case decided by a California Court of Appeal, the Court of Appeal stated that the trial court properly placed on former wife the burden of proving that a transfer of the former husband’s separate ownership of certain property to joint tenancy was not the product of undue influence; the presumption of undue influence under Family Code Section 721 in interspousal transactions that advantage one spouse to the disadvantage of the other prevails over the presumption under Family Code Section 2581 that property acquired as joint tenancy by a married couple was community property.

Another California Court of Appeal has stated that in a divorce proceeding, where the common law presumption of title, and the community property presumption of undue influence conflict, then the presumption of undue influence prevails. And the same Court of Appeal also stated that when there is a presumption of undue influence, the burden is on the advantaged spouse to prove the transaction was freely and voluntarily entered into with full knowledge of all relevant facts and a complete understanding of the effect of the transfer. And if the advantaged spouse does not meet their burden of proof then the disadvantaged spouse is entitled to a set-aside of the transaction, effectively defeating the record title.

Clearly, anyone involved in a divorce in California, who previously signed an interspousal quitclaim deed transferring ownership of any real property to their spouse, or any other document which transferred ownership of any other property including personal property such as vehicles, etc., to their spouse needs to consider whether the presumption of undue influence is appropriate in their case. If so they should request that the Court set aside the interspousal transfer. The request could be made by an Order to Show Cause or Notice of Motion.

To view the Family Code Sections cited in this article, or any other code sections in California visit the website below.

The author sincerely hopes you have enjoyed this article and found it informative.


Stan Burman