A Divorce Judgment Is A Money Judgment

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Susan and Lee got divorced.  The 1985 judgment dissolving the marriage found their residence to be community property, and ordered that Susan receive half the proceeds of the sale of the residence, less costs of sale and an existing encumbrance.  Although the judgment directed Susan and Lee to cooperate in listing and selling the residence “forthwith,” Lee continued to live in the residence for 21 more years.  When he finally sold the residence, he did not provide any portion of the proceeds of the sale to Susan.  The trial court denied Susan’s request for a writ of execution, because the judgment was not a “money judgment” as defined by Code of Civil Procedure section 680.270.

Whether the 1985 judgment was a money judgment is a legal question we review de novo.  (Conservatorship of Whitley (2010) 50 Cal.4th 1206, 1214.)

Susan does not dispute that the 1985 judgment does not specify a set amount of money to be paid to her by Lee.  She contends, however, that “only the requirement that money be paid” is necessary to constitute a money judgment.

A money judgment is “that part of a judgment that requires the payment of money.”  (Code Civ. Proc., § 680.270.)  A money judgment “must be stated with certainty and should specify the amount.”  (Kittle v. Lang (1951) 107 Cal.App.2d 604, 612; see Wallace v. Wallace (1931) 111 Cal.App. 500, 506; D’Arcy v. D’Arcy (1928) 89 Cal.App. 86, 92.)

“To be enforceable by execution, a money judgment must specify with certainty the amount for which it is rendered, or if the amount is not stated, it must be ascertainable from the record.  Where a judgment, as originally drawn, fails either to fix a dollar amount for the amount of damages or to set forth the method by which the exact amount can be determined, the judgment is patently ineffective to allow the plaintiff to secure a writ of execution.”  (30 Am.Jur.2d (2005) Executions and Enforcement of Judgments, § 56, p. 94, fns. omitted.)  This general principle is the law of California.  . .”

The court continues:

The 1985 judgment does not specify the dollar amount Lee was to pay to Susan.  However, that amount can be ascertained in the same way the courts did in Brown v. Brown and In re Marriage of Farner.  The method of calculation is set forth in the 1985 judgment.  However, based on the limited factual record before us and the issues actually briefed by the parties, we cannot determine the amount, if any, that Susan is owed.  In its simplest form, the 1985 judgment awards Susan half the proceeds “upon sale of the residence,” less the costs of sale, and less $30,000 for the preexisting encumbrance on the residence, plus a $3,695 equalizing payment from Lee to Susan.  The sales price of the residence and the costs of sale can be calculated, and simple math then applied to ascertain the amount to which Susan was entitled.  The amount of the 1985 judgment was reasonably ascertainable, and the trial court erred in refusing to determine the amount, if any, of Susan’s community property interest.

The Court then explains how to calculate the amount of money owed to Susan:

On remand, the trial court shall conduct an evidentiary hearing, and consider such testimony and documentary evidence as is necessary to determine, among other things, the date on which the value of the property is to be calculated.  If the trial court concludes the property shall be valued as of the date of the judgment of dissolution, it shall, in addition to calculating Susan’s community property interest, also calculate the net present value of that interest.  If the trial court concludes the property should be valued as of the date Lee sold the property in 2006, it shall make the necessary calculations to decide what credits and offsets, if any, may apply to the 2006 value of the property.  In either case, the trial court shall fully consider all legal and equitable arguments affecting the parties’ respective interests in the property and the enforceability of the judgment.

This opinion makes perfect and common sense to me.  There is no reason Susan should suffer loss by passage of time.  The remand instructions also demonstrate that not every judicial decision needs to be overwhelmingly complicated.  Well done Court of Appeal!

Please click here to read the original opinion in Hawley

Please be sure to visit www.hardinglaw.com, the website for the law firm of Harding & Associates, for more information on California family law.

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