A Spouse May Not Sue Former Spouse for Breach of Promise to Marry in Civil Courts. The Divorce Court has Jurisdiction to Divide Property Associated with the Marriage

Husband and wife were married for 13 years and had two children. Wife’s divorce lawyer filed for divorce in Orange County and Husband’s divorce lawyer filed his response. Five months later, husband’s divorce lawyer filed a separate civil lawsuit against wife for fraud. Husband’s Orange County divorce attorney alleged that wife misrepresented that she loved him and was sexually attracted to him, which caused husband to marry wife and put property in her name. In the civil lawsuit, husband’s Orange County divorce attorney sought monetary damages for the misrepresentations and an award of the property as his sole and separate property.

After wife’s Orange County divorce attorney unsuccessfully sought to consolidate the civil lawsuit with the divorce, husband presented his fraud claim to a jury.  Husband’s Orange County lawyer presented evidence concerning wife’s lack of physical and sexual desire or passion for husband prior to and during the marriage.  The jury found in favor of husband and awarded him monetary damages and separate property.  Wife’s Orange County divorce attorney appealed the judgment in the civil action.

The Court of Appeal in Orange County found that (1) the civil court did not have jurisdiction over husband’s civil lawsuit against wife for misrepresentations, and (2) that since the 1930s, misrepresentations made by spouses relating to love and marriage do not support a cause of action for damages.

On the first finding, the Court of Appeal held that once divorce court acquired jurisdiction over the divorce, which wife filed first, the divorce court had exclusive jurisdiction to classify and divide marital property. By issuing an award of separate property in the civil lawsuit, the civil court improperly usurped the divorce court’s exclusive jurisdiction.

On the second finding, the Court of Appeal sided with wife’s Orange County divorce lawyer and reiterated that courts should “stay out of the bedroom” and not examine the sincerity of intimate relations between spouses.  A contrary finding would have been “fundamentally incompatible” with the no-fault divorce standard, which does not attribute blame to either spouse.

Askew v. Askew (1994) 22 Cal. App. 4th 942