Tuesday, February 1, 2011

arizona divorce lawyer

What is arizona divorce lawyer?

As mentioned yesterday in this blog, The Arizona Court of Appeals recently rendered a decision addressing a very common problem that many Arizonans are facing - a severe downturn in the real estate market. The case, Valento v Valento, and the facts concerning the matter follow.


During the marriage, Husband and Wife (both realtors) acquired multiple properties, including the marital residence. During the marriage, Husband signed a disclaimer deed recognizing that the marital residence was Wife's sole and separate property.

After trial, it was determined that an equitable lien of $200,000 attached to the marital residence.

Husband appealed because he did not agree with the trial court's determination as to the value of the lien imposed upon the marital residence, Wife cross-appealed arguing that no equitable lien should have existed.

Disclaimer Deed; Sole and Separate Property?

Wife's position was that she purchased the marital residence in 2005 for $1.2M, and that she made a down-payment of $560K from her separate funds and mortgaged the remaining $650K. She testified that during the marriage, both parties paid down the principle balance with approximately $200K of community funds. According to Wife, the outstanding mortgage balance at trial was approximately $400K.

Husband however claimed that the lot upon which the marital residence was located was purchased for $384K, which was subject to the disclaimer deed, but that community funds were used to build the home and improve the property. Husband's position was that the property increased in value during the marriage, and stressed that the disclaimer deed he signed only dealt with any "past and present" interest, but not any future interest in the property.

Neither party submitted documentary evidence to support their positions. (The Court of Appeals was not pleased with this, pointing out that it was particularly unusual since both parties were experienced realtors.) As a result, the trial court refused to treat the land purchase and construction as separate transactions, and adopted Wife's position that the marital residence and its property was her sole and separate property. The Court of Appeals agreed finding that the language contained in the disclaimer deed "defined the character of the interest in the entire property, including the house".

Valuation of Marital Residence.

At trial, Husband submitted a year-old appraisal that valued the property at $1.65M. However, he admitted that since the time of the appraisal the real estate market had declined approximately 30%. Husband suggested that the value should be fixed at the appraisal amount, plus the value of subsequent improvements less 30%. According to his theory, the improvements were worth $100K and fair market value of the property was $1.225M -- approximately $15K more than the combined value of the mortgage and down payment.

Wife claimed the property was worth $800K based on comps, and as such, at trial market forces reduced the value by approximately $320K. (Remember, we did say the Arizona real estate market was "severly" depressed!

With that said, the trial court made no determination as to the value of the property after trial. It did however, conclude that there was a community lien based solely upon the reduction of principle from the contribution of community funds. On appeal, Husband contended that the trial court undervalued the community lien; Wife contended that no lien could exist because the property did not appreciate during the marriage.


The Court of Appeals did not agree with Wife that there should be no equitable lien because the property decreased in value during the marriage. The Court of Appeals also found that it was improper for the trial court not to have determined the value of the property at trial so that the value of the community lien could not be made.

The Court then reaffirmed the use of the Barnett formula when separate property depreciates but positive equity remains because "community contributions toward principle have increased equity dollar-for-dollar, and the presence of positive equity means that the owner-spouse can actually realize the benefit conferred by the community". Further, the Court explained "[i]f the community contributions were not recognized in the form of a lien, the owner-spouse would receive a windfall from the community". As a result, the Court rejected Wife's position that a decline in the market value automatically eliminates the community's interest in sole and separate property.

The Court also saw "no reason to deprive the community of the entire value of its contributions when separate property depreciates to the point that the owner-spouse has negative equity -- to the extent that the owner-spouse has received existing value from the community, the community's contributions must be recognized. And, the Court indicated it would be illogical to hold that the community should receive the full benefit of its contributions to principal when a portion of the equity it created can no longer be realized." As a result, the Court held that when equity is negative, the community lien can be valued as follows C - [C/B x D]; where D equals the depreciation in value of the property during marriage; B equals the value of the property on the date of marriage; and C equals community contributions to principal or market value.

To be continued . . .


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