As a couple moves toward a divorce or legal separation, one potentially hotly contested issue involves what is known as “Epstein” credits. “Epstein” credits were named after the case in which they were first recognized, In Re Marriage of Epstein, which was decided by the California Supreme Court in 1979. These credits may be given to a party who pays community debt with separate property funds before a divorce or legal separation is final. If you are unfamiliar with the nature of community and separate property, please see our blog here.
The issue of Epstein credits often comes up when one party stays in the family residence with the children after the couple is separated. These credits are based on the notion that the family residence is community property and that both parties have a right to receive the benefit of that property until community assets and debt have been allocated by the court. The parties could benefit from the property in different ways: by staying there themselves, by renting it out, or by selling it. Therefore, when one spouse stays in the home, he or she is receiving a benefit and also depriving the other spouse of beneficial use of the property.
Epstein is not limited, however, to the family home. These credits may be requested any time preexisting community debt is paid with the separate property of one spouse. For that reason, they may apply to credit card debt, vehicle loans, and tax payments. However, the party requesting these credits must be able to show that a community debt was paid with his or her separate funds, such as income earned after the date the parties separated. When Epstein credits are awarded, the spouse who paid the community debt is entitled to be reimbursed out of community property assets.
Additionally, the right to Epstein credits may be extinguished under certain circumstances. For example, no Epstein credits will be awarded if the debt payment was intended as a gift, if the parties agreed that no reimbursement would be made, or if the payments were made in place of spousal support.
As you might imagine, both the date of separation and the nature of the debt involved are critical to a court’s decision of whether to award Epstein credits.
Because the legal issues in determining how property and debt are owned are significant, the assistance of an experienced divorce attorney can materially change the outcome of a divorce or separation matter. For these issues, you need an attorney with substantial experience in Northern California who will represent you aggressively. Please contact The Law Offices of Judy L. Burger at (415) 259-6636 to learn more.