His Eyes Don't Adore the Court of Appeal

Singer Frankie Valli was married to Randy. During the marriage Frankie had some heart problems. Driven by the concern over his health he and Randy purchased a $3.75 million life insurance policy insuring Frankie's life. When the policy was purchased Randy was listed as the owner of the policy, and the beneficiary. Premiums on the policy were paid by the community. At time of divorce the policy had a cash value of $365,032. Because the policy was purchased during the marriage the trial judge applied the general community property presumption, found the policy to be community property, awarded it to Frankie, and ordered him the pay Randy $182,500 (or half of the cash value of the policy). Randy appealed. The Court of Appeal greased Frankie, and reversed the trial court's decision. Applying the form of title presumption, the policy was presumptively Frankie's because she was listed as the owner of the policy. The burden of proof then shifted to Frankie to overcome that presumption with "clear and convincing evidence" proving that he and Randy had an agreement that the policy was community property. He could not meet this burden. The Court of Appeal writes: Thus, the mere fact that property was acquired during marriage does not . . . rebut the form of title presumption; to the contrary, the act of taking title to property in the name of one spouse during marriage with the consent of the other spouse effectively removes that property from the general community property presumption. In that situation, the property is presumably the separate property of the spouse in whose name title is taken. The appellate court goes on: The evidence at trial established that Randy is the owner of the policy. Randy testified that the policy was taken out to prepare for her future in case something happened to Frankie and that Frankie and Siegel told her that "they were going to make [her] the owner" of the policy. Frankie did not introduce contrary evidence. Indeed Frankie's own testimony and the testimony from his witness, Gilbert, support Randy's position that she is the owner of the policy. Frankie testified that he "caused" the policy to be purchased from Gilbert's company. Gilbert testified that Randy is the owner of the policy. Frankie testified that he did not intend to separate from Randy when he obtained the policy and that he "put everything in Randy's name, figuring she would take care and give to the kids what they might have coming." Frankie's attorney's argument to the trial court supports Randy's position. Frankie's attorney stated, "The policy was issued in Randy's name as the owner during marriage . . . . One of the facts the appellate court emphasized is that the policy was purchased from a third party. Well what item of property isn't purchased from a third party? It is rare that a husband and wife are selling property to each other? This case goes a long way to ensure Randy got that insurance policy. In my mind it also goes a long way to erode the community property presumption. There is a long line of cases involving real estate purchased or refinanced in one party's name during the marriage which hold that the real estate is still community property. The holdings in those cases would appear to conflict with the holding in Valli. It will be interesting to see how other court's apply or distinguish the Valli case in the future. Click here to read the original Valli opinion. Please click here to visit hardinglaw.com, the website for Harding & Associates Family Law.

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