Husband Living in Family Residence After Separation Owes Wife Reasonable Rent but Not Increase in Value of Home

A California Court of Appeals has ruled that Watts charges [a party having sole use of both parties’ community property asset, i.e., home, after separation can be charged for that party’s sole use, i.e., reasonable rental value of the home] may be ordered against Husband where Husband lived in his separate property house after the parties’ date of separation and Moore/Marsden formula gave the community a beneficial interest in the house because payments during the marriage were made with community property funds. In the case of In re Marriage of Mohler, Husband bought a house for $168,000, taking title in his sole name in February of 1995, prior to the parties’ marriage. Husband and Wife were married in September of 1998. They lived in the House until they separated on July 2, 2011. The payments on the House were made with community property funds [the parties’ earnings during the marriage] until that date. The principle reduction on the mortgage loan on the House was reduced during the parties’ marriage to the tune of $56,557. After they separated, Husband lived in the House and paid the house payments with his separate property funds [his earnings after the parties’ date of separation].

At trial in 2017, Trial Court valued the House at $530,000. The parties agreed that the Moore/Marsden formula [when community pays for one party’s separate property House during the marriage, the community gets reimbursed based on principle reduction of the loan on the House and appreciation in value of the house during the marriage] should be used to calculate the community property interest in the House acquired by making the mortgage payments. Using that formula, Trial Court calculated that the community property interest amounted to 33.66%, or $172,684 (appreciation value plus mortgage principle reduction). However, Wife argued that the community property interest must be increased to 64.9% to include the six (6) years that Husband lived in the House after the parties’ separation. In essence, Wife was arguing that she had to wait for six (6) years to receive her community property share in the House while Husband was solely enjoying the House and thus, her community property interest should be increased.

Trial Court agreed and re-calculated the community property interest under the Moore/Marsden formula at $332,944, which included Husbands separate property payments of $52,482 [payments he made on the mortgage after the date of separation]. Husband appealed and now the California Court of Appeals has vacated Trial Court’s order and has remanded the case back to Trail Court with directions as to how to resolve the case.

The Appellate Court has ruled that (1) by making payments on Husbands separate property House with community property funds [parties earnings during the marriage], the community acquired a beneficial interest in House the amount of which is calculated by the application of the Moore/Marsden formula;(2) the community ceases to acquire a beneficial interest in a spouses separate property when community property payments stop or date of separation occurs; (3) Trial Court erred by applying the Moore/Marsden formula beyond the date of separation after which Husband made house payments with his separate property [his earnings after the date of separation]; and (4) if any compensation is due to the community by reason of Husbands living in the House after the parties separation, it must be calculated as Watts charges. According to the Appellate Court, where, as here, the community does not own the property outright but instead maintains a beneficial partial interest in the property due to a Moore/Marsden calculation, Watts charges may be applied. Therefore, the Appellate Court has remanded the case back to Trial Court for further proceedings in line with this opinion.

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