The California Family Code does not impose penalties for extramarital affairs. Even so, a spouse who has been cheated on should seek to discover whether any gifts were secretly exchanged during the affair.
If a spouse received gifts during an affair, these gifts may be counted as his or her assets. The value of each parties’ assets is a factor that courts consider when setting spousal support.
If a spouse gave away gifts during an affair, the next question is whether the gifts were his or hers to give in the first place. Even if gifts were purchased with the giver’s personal income, they are likely unauthorized because income earned during marriage generally belongs to the marital community. The Family Code prevents one spouse from giving away such community property without the other spouse’s consent.
When one spouse secretly gives away community property, the other spouse generally has two options. First, he or she can obtain reimbursement from the giver-spouse for one-half of the value of the gifts. Alternatively, he or she can sue for the surrender of the gifts. Surrendered gifts are returned to the marital community.
A recent case involving Donald Sterling, former owner of the LA Clippers, provides an illustration. Donald Sterling’s 33-year ownership of the LA Clippers was famously brought to a halt in 2014 when Ms. V. Stiviano released a phone recording depicting him making racially offensive comments. Less well-known at the time was the fact that Ms. Stiviano had received over $2.6 million worth of gifts from Donald Sterling in the years preceding her release of the tape. When Donald Sterling’s wife discovered the gifts, she successfully sued Ms. Stiviano for their return.
Ms. Stiviano appealed, claiming that Mrs. Sterling sued the wrong person. She argued that Mrs. Sterling should have instead sued her own husband. The appellate court rejected this argument. Although the Family Code did give Mrs. Sterling the right to obtain reimbursement for her share of the gifts from her husband, Ms. Sterling also had the option to sue the recipient of the gifts for their return.
To better understand your rights and obligations regarding community property, please call (949) 221-1000 to consult with a Certified Family Law Specialist today.