Mullonkal v. Kodiyamplakkil: Property Division/Education Loans

Carolyn Mullonkal v. Sithaj Kodiyamplakkil

California Court of Appeal, Third District

Published Opinion (06/30/2020) 51 Cal.App.5th 604

File Date:

Husband appeals from the judgment of dissolution, contending that the community is entitled to reimbursement, under Family Code 2641, for community funds spent repaying wife’s educational loans, both from lending institutions and from her parents.

Family Code 2641 directs that on dissolution, “[t]he community shall be reimbursed for community contributions to education.” Including education loan repayments. But reduction or modification of reimbursement is allowed, “to the extent circumstances render such a disposition unjust ….” Those “circumstances” include, but are not limited to, (1) where the community has “substantially benefited from the education; (2) where the education of one party is offset by the education of the other party, for which the community also contributed; and (3) where the party’s education substantially reduces that party’s need for support payments. If community contributions to the education costs are made less than ten years before the commencement of the dissolution, it is presumed that the community has not substantially benefited.

The trial court denied husband’s request for 2641 reimbursements as “contrary to law and unjust, stating that 2641 “remedies the injustice that may occur when a married couple separates shortly after graduation but before the community is benefitted by the education when payments are made related to the education.” The trial court found that Husband did not work nor provide financial support for the community while wife earned her degree and later paid off her educational expenses. The court determined that the presumption that the community had not substantially benefited had been rebutted.

Wife contends that the statutory language “including, but not limited to,” gives the court broad discretion to include circumstances not specifically enumerated that would render reimbursement under 2641 unjust.

To determine the breadth of discretion intended by such general language, the Court of Appeal applies the principle of ejusdem generis, where a particular class of things modifies general words, the court construes those general words to apply only to things of the same general nature of class as the enumerated items. The Court of Appeal concludes that the trial court was limited to including circumstances in which both parties benefit and no one party receives a windfall.

Here, Wife’s separate education debts were paid off, which would have been assigned to her upon dissolution. Husband did not receive a similar benefit, nor did he enjoy the standard of living the community could have had during marriage.

The trial court also reasoned that reimbursement, in this case, would not be what the Legislature had envisioned because this case does not present a student spouse who dedicates their married life to their education while the other spouse works to support the community and the student spouse. The Court of Appeal disagrees and states that the basic tenet of community property law is that income earned during the marriage belongs equally to the community. In writing 2641, if the Legislature intended the nonstudent spouse to “earn the right” to share in the community assets, it would have said so. Instead, the reimbursement puts the parties on equal footing by requiring the student spouse to give back to the community what the community actually lost.

The Court of Appeal holds that the community be reimbursed for community expenditures made during the marriage towards wife’s institutional and family-provided education loans.

Opinion: IRMO Mullonkal & Kodiyamplakkil 6-29-20

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