Ciprari: Child Support, Spousal Support, Attorney Fees, Separate Property, Commingling, Fiduciary Duty

In re Marriage of Ciprari  (Child Support, Spousal Support (alimony), Attorney Fees, Separate Property, Commingling, Fiduciary Duty)

California Court of Appeal, Second District

Published Opinion, (2019) 32 Cal.App.5th 83

File Date:
Filed 2-6-2019

(1) The family court characterized cash and securities in commingled accounts as the husband’s separate property based on a tracing of the accounts. The appellate court held that the tracing analysis was sufficient to rebut the presumption that the commingled investment account was entirely community property. Rejecting the wife’s claim that the law only allows two tracing methods (a direct tracing or family expense tracing), the court held: “Tracing is simply a method of proof. … The tracing method may vary depending on the facts. Thus, family courts are free to consider and credit reasonable, well-supported, and nonspeculative expert testimony, when determining whether the proponent has successfully traced commingled assets to a separate property source.”

(2) The court affirmed the ruling that the husband’s deposits to college savings accounts and life insurance trust were gifts to children mutually given by both spouses and not a breach of fiduciary duty. There was evidence that the wife consented to set up these accounts, rendering them “gifts mutually given by both spouses” under Family Code section 1100, subdivision (b).

(3) In modifying child and spousal support, the appellate court held that the family court had to consider the spouses’ annual tax returns from the year at issue, not just the prior year. The family court also failed to adequately explain why it awarded the wife $5,000 per month in spousal support when the husband had substantial income and the parties enjoyed a high marital standard of living.

(4) The family court denied a need-based fee award to the wife because the husband spent substantial fees in tracing the investment account and found that her request for fees was unreasonable. The Court of Appeal directed the family court to reconsider its ruling because of the imbalance in finances between the parties, and it was the husband’s fault that the account was commingled.

Ciprari 2-6-19

The case listed here was not handled by Walzer Melcher unless the description states that Walzer Melcher appeared as counsel.