The Divorce Court is Not Required to Take New Evidence and Continually Redistribute Community Assets Until a Judgment is Formally Entered

Based on Mary Hahn and Albert Hahn’s oral stipulation at trial on July 13, 1988, the Orange County divorce court determined the community home was worth $179,000. Albert’s Orange County divorce attorney maintained he should have been allowed to reopen the trial and present evidence that the home was actually worth $225,000 based on more recent sales of comparable properties. However, a party may not unilaterally avoid a valid stipulation. Parties frequently stipulate because values are difficult to ascertain and expensive to prove and certainty is desirable. Additionally, stipulations are often the product of compromise.

Albert’s Orange County divorce attorney relies on In re Marriage of Olson (1980) 27 Cal.3d 414, where the wife sold the house after the trial, but before the judgment. The court held, “once the trial court had been informed, prior to issuance of its interlocutory decree, that there had been a substantial change in the nature of the community property occasioned by the forced sale of the family residence, the court was obliged, in conformity with Section 4800 of the Civil Code, either to redistribute equally the residue of the property then remaining in the community, or find applicable one of the statutory exceptions which permitted unequal distribution.” Id. at 422. Olson may control had the Respondent lost the property or sold it at a substantially increased price before final judgment was entered: “A motion for reconsideration of value should be granted where a community asset is sold by one spouse before entry of judgment, for a much higher price than valued by the court in its tentative decision.” In re Marriage of Johnson (1983) 143 Cal.App.3d 57, 61. Here the court should exercise its discretion to relieve a party from the stipulation and take evidence on the current fair market value, even though reversal was not on the valuation issue.

In this Orange County divorce, there was no intervening sale, forfeiture, or any change in the nature of the family home. Consequently, the evidence proffered by Albert’s Orange County divorce attorney did not require the court to afford an opportunity to rescind his stipulation unilaterally. A policy that would require the Orange County divorce court to take new evidence and continually redistribute community assets until the moment a judgment is formally entered would wreak havoc with the efficient operation of the courts and disrupt the settled expectations of the parties. Furthermore, the court cannot be faulted for a party’s failure to investigate or estimate the value of an asset properly. The lower court was well within its prerogative to deny Albert’s Orange County divorce attorney’s motion to be relieved of his stipulation.

Furthermore, this Court declines the Respondent’s Orange County divorce attorney’s request for sanctions for a frivolous appeal. This Court held that Olson and other cases cited could be read broadly to provide some support for Appellant’s Orange County divorce attorney’s position. The judgment of the Orange County divorce court was affirmed.

In re Marriage of Hahn, 224 Cal.App.3d 1236 (1990).