Judgment for Loans Before Marriage In an Arizona Divorce Decree
In Johnson v Johnson, 454 P.2d 590 (1969), the Court of Appeals reviewed an award made to a spouse. The spouse had not requested the award, nor did the judge explain why the award was given.
Facts of the Case
Mr. and Mrs. Johnson were married. Before they were married, they entered into a written agreement about their finances. They agreed that all of the income received and obligations incurred during their marriage would be kept separate. They also agreed to waive any claims against each other’s property after death.
Also before the marriage, Wife gave Husband $1,600 to buy three horses. Mrs. Johnson filed for divorce after 18 months of marriage, seeking only a dissolution decree and attorney fees.
Husband asked for a declaration stating that the antenuptial agreement was void and for an order dividing community property.
The court awarded Mrs. Johnson a divorce plus the $1,600 she had loaned Husband before the marriage with 6% interest. Husband appealed.
The Antenuptial Agreement
The trial court evidently found that there was no community property since neither spouse worked during the marriage. Therefore, it did not address the legality of the antenuptial agreement.
On appeal, the Court noted that the provision that neither spouse could claim property in probate if the other died might be against public policy. However, it stated that the provision had nothing whatsoever to do with the issues in the case.
Money for Horse Purchase
The trial court awarded Wife $1,600 for money she gave her Husband to buy three horses before the marriage. The trial court did not explain its legal theory for this award. The Court of Appeals could not find any legal theory either to support this award.
Nothing in the pleadings raises this money as an issue, nor were any amendments offered. The Court said that a divorce court can only make an award if it has a legal basis to do so. The Court of Appeals found no legal authority that would allow a judge to enter a judgment in a divorce for monies loaned between spouses prior to marriage.
It ruled that this gift or loan was completely outside the trial court’s authority in this case.
The Court of Appeals overturned the $1600 and interest award from the judgment and otherwise affirmed the remaining parts of the judgment.
Chris Hildebrand wrote this article to ensure everyone has access to information about family law in Arizona. Chris is a divorce and family law attorney at Hildebrand Law, PC. He has over 24 years of Arizona family law experience and has received multiple awards, including US News and World Report “Top Arizona Divorce Attorneys”, Phoenix Magazine “Top Divorce Law Firms”, and Arizona Foothills Magazine “Best of the Valley” award. He believes the policies and procedures he uses to get his clients through a divorce should all be guided by the principles of honesty, integrity, and, quite frankly, actually caring about what his clients are going through in a divorce or family law case. In short, his practice is defined by the success of his clients. He also manages all of the other attorneys at his firm to make sure the outcomes in their clients’ cases are successful as well.
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