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Danger of Oral Agreements: In Re Marriage of Dellaria

In Re Marriage of Dellaria, Fioled March 17,2009, the Court of Appeal held that Family Code 2550 only permits the parties to agree on an unequal division of assets if it evidenced by a written agreement or by an oral stipulation in open court. The case illustrates the problems that can arise if the parties reach an agreement in good faith and dvide the assets in reliance on that agreement but fail to reduce it to a writing. In Dellaria The parties married in August 1989 and separated in December 2001. Husband and Wife began discussing the division of their property in 2002 and reached an oral agreement dividing their major community assets in 2003. Briefly, the jointly owned family home was transferred to Wife. The residence was refinanced and $217,562 in cash was given to Husband. In addition, two Wachovia brokerage accounts that were in Husband’s name alone were transferred to Wife. A second jointly owned real property was transferred to Husband. A third real property and the community’s business, were already in Husband’s name and were retained by him alone. Wife testified that under the oral agreement, each party was to retain his or her retirement plans. Husband was to keep two vehicles and she was to keep one. The trial court bifurcated the issues surrounding the agreement. The court found that Husband and Wife fully executed their oral agreement and that there were no issues remaining to be litigated over the valuation and disposition of their real estate, the Wachovia accounts, and Husband’s business. The trial court assigned values to and disposed of specific items of community property in accordance with the terms of the parties’ agreement. The trial court observed that this disposition resulted in an unequal division of community property that favored Husband. The Court of Appeal reversed.

 

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