Statements Regarding Property Are Binding in a Divorce
In Arizona, property acquired during a marriage is presumed to be community property. A spouse claiming otherwise must offer clear and convincing evidence in support.
In Hofstra v. Hofstra 474 P.2d 869 (1970), the Court of Appeals heard an appeal regarding this issue. A husband appealed the trial court’s ruling that a certain property – the Coyote Ranch — was community property.
Facts of the Case
Mr. Hofstra and Mrs. Hofstra were married in 1949. They had seven children. The last was born in 1967 which was the same year that husband filed for divorce. The trial court divided the property between the couple. It also awarded Mrs. Hofstra monthly child support of $250 for each child.
The trial court also ruled that the couple owned Coyote Springs Ranch as community property. Husband appealed. He claims Coyote Springs as his separate property. He also appealed the award of child support.
Coyote Springs Ranch as Community Property
Husband had acquired substantial separate property early in the marriage when the couple lived in another state. Mr. Hofstra and his wife then moved to Arizona after the first three children were born. There, the couple invested money earned from the sale of Husband’s property or loans secured by that property. These investments included a property called Coyote Springs Ranch.
Husband purchased it in 1966. He testified under oath that he considered it to be community property when he bought it. He borrowed $125,000 for a down payment and operating costs. He pledged his separate assets as security for this loan. He later made another principal payment of $80,000. For this, he used both his own separate funds and separate funds belonging to wife.
Mr. Hofstra claims the trial court erred when it determined that the property was community property. The Court of Appeals reviewed the facts and the law.
Under Arizona law, Arizona courts must presume that property acquired in Arizona during the marriage is community property. The spouse claiming differently must present clear and convincing evidence supporting his position.
Here, the couple bought Coyote Springs Ranch during the marriage. Husband testified that he considered the Coyote Springs Ranch to be community property. That testimony binds him.
Claimed Lien on Coyote Springs Ranch
Husband next argues the Court should have given him a lien on the Coyote Springs Ranch property. He claims a lien equal to the loan he took for the down payment. However, the Court of Appeals said that a husband who improves community property with his separate funds isn’t automatically entitled to reimbursement. He must make an early and clear claim for reimbursement.
Mr. Hofstra first mentioned his claimed lien to wife at the divorce trial. That, the Court of Appeals ruled, was too late. Therefore, husband did not have a claim on it in the amount of the $125,000 loan.
Alimony and Child Support
The Court of Appeals reviewed the alimony and child support awarded. It reduced the child support payments from $250 to $200 per month per child.
The Arizona Court of Appeals lowered the child support payments from $250 to $200 per child. Otherwise, it affirmed the ruling of the lower court. This decision was subsequently distinguished by the Arizona Court of Appeals in the appeal of Moser v. Moser.
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.