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Downer v. Bramet - 152 Cal. App. 3d 837, 199 Cal. Rptr. 830 (1984)

Rule:

Earnings or property attributable to or acquired as a result of the labor, skill and effort of a spouse during marriage are community property.

Facts:

In December 1972, a marital settlement agreement was executed between plaintiff former wife, Gloria Alice Bramet Downer, and defendant former husband, George Keith Bramet. The agreement, which was later incorporated in the judgment of dissolution, provided that all income and earnings of Gloria or George after March 4, 1972, should be the separate property of the acquirer and that each party released any claim to such earnings or after acquired property. In August 1972, before the parties executed the agreement, but clearly five months after the date specified in the settlement agreement, defendant George's employer conveyed to him an interest in real property.Gloria learned of the conveyance when the property was sold. Gloria filed a complaint to determine her interest in the property and for fraud. The trial court rendered a judgment of nonsuit. Gloria appealed, arguing that the trial court should not have granted the nonsuit.  Moreover, Gloria argued that the trial court should have allowed her to introduce expert testimony as to whether the conveyance by the employer constituted a gift or a deferred compensation.

Issue:

  1. Should the former wife be allowed to introduce expert testimony in order to determine if the conveyance to her former husband was a gift or a deferred compensation?
  2. Did the conveyance from the former husband's employer form part of the community property?

Answer:

1) No. 2) Yes, but only to the extent that defendant former husband’s services were rendered during marriage.

Conclusion:

On appeal, the California appellate court affirmed as to fraud but reversed on the property issue. The Court held that the expert testimony, on the issue of whether the transfer constituted deferred compensation or a gift, was properly excluded because Cal. Evid. Code § 804 did not authorize an expert to testify to legal conclusions. The Court agreed with the trial court's finding that the transfer was legally in the form of a gift. However, the Court found that there was substantial evidence that the gift was made in recognition of employment. Thus, the Court held that to the extent defendant's services were rendered during the marriage, the proceeds of the sale were community property.

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