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Law School Case Brief

In re Marriage of Lucas - 27 Cal. 3d 808, 166 Cal. Rptr. 853, 614 P.2d 285 (1980)


When a single family residence of a husband and wife is acquired by them during marriage as joint tenants, for the purpose of the division of such property upon divorce or separate maintenance only, the presumption is that such single family residence is the community property of said husband and wife.


In November 1968, Brenda and Gerald Lucas bought a house for $23,300. Brenda used $6,351.57 from her trust for the down payment, and they assumed a loan of $16,948.43 for the balance of the purchase price. Title to the house was taken as "Gerald E. Lucas and Brenda G. Lucas, Husband and Wife as Joint Tenants." Brenda paid $ 2,962 from her trust funds for improvements to the property; the remainder of the expenses on the property was paid for with community funds. In the case of their separation trial, the trial court issued a judgment dissolving the marriage, awarding child custody, fixing spousal and child support and dividing property. The trial court concluded that Brenda did not intend to make a gift to Gerard of any interest in the home purchased with her separate funds, deducted her payment for improvements from the equity, and awarded appellee Brenda 75 percent of the community property interest. The court also determined that a motorhome, titled and registered in Brenda's name and largely paid for with her separate funds, was her separate property. On appeal, Gerald argued the trial court's determination of the parties' ownership interests in their residence and in a vehicle, both of which were purchased with a combination of community and separate funds. Gerald also challenged the trial court's determination that a 1976 Harvest Mini-Motorhome, purchased in January 1976 for a cash price of $10,388, was Brenda's separate property.


1. Was the house purchased in 1968 a separate property of the wife?

2. Was the motorhome a separate property of the wife?


1. No. 2. Yes.


1. The Court held that the parties had failed to overcome the presumption that the subject property was a community property. There was no evidence of an agreement or understanding that Brenda was to retain a separate property interest in the house. Nor was there any finding by the trial court on the question. The only findings in this regard were that neither party intended a gift to the other. Such evidence and findings were insufficient to rebut the presumption that the same was conjugal. Neither the parties nor the court applied the correct rules to this case, and it is possible that had they done so the proof might have been different. In the interest of justice, the Court remanded the case for the determination of the issue of the community or separate property character of the residence.

2. The Court held that the motorhome was the separate property of Brenda. The trial court's determination that he made a gift of his interest was supported by substantial evidence. The Title was taken in Brenda's name alone. Gerald was aware of this and did not object. The evidence constituted substantial support for the trial court's conclusion that Gerald was making a gift to Brenda of his community property interest in the motorhome.

The Court remanded the case for the determination of the property character of the house. In the other aspects of the decision, the Court affirmed the lower court.

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