Court: Attorney's Computers 'Necessary for Life' in Dividing Divorce Debt

By William Vogeler, Esq. on September 01, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

In everybody's not-seriously favorite lawyer movie, Jim Carrey's movie wife explains how divorce insulated her from his personal life.

"That's the magic of divorce," she says to the chronic liar-lawyer in "Liar Liar."

If only it worked that way in real life when it comes to community debt in divorce court. Attorney Grant Brooks tried, but it was a flop in Direct Capital Corporation v. Brooks.

A Community Obligation

Brooks filed for divorce from Mary Brooks, who was also an attorney, the day before a computer-leasing company had a court hearing to garnish his wages. The company, Direct Capital Corporation, already had a judgment against Mary for $40,000 for breaching an equipment lease.

Mary, charged and disbarred for allegedly defrauding clients, had avoided collections. So the company went after Grant in civil court, but he claimed the court lost jurisdiction once he filed for divorce.

The company called it a sham divorce to defraud creditors. The trial judge found it was a community obligation and issued a garnishment order.

Grant appealed, but California's Third District Court of Appeals affirmed.

"Neccessaries of Life"

A spouse's separate property is generally not liable for debts incurred by the other spouse during marriage, the court said. But under Family Code Section 914, a spouse is liable for a "debt incurred for necessaries of life."

The trial court found that Mary Brooks' former law practice generated community income, and that computers were necessary to operate her law practice.

"A modern law practice entails a lot of paperwork, which commonly includes computerized forms," the appeals court acknowledged. "Frankly, it is difficult to imagine a reasonable attorney beginning or maintaining a California law practice without a computer."

Because computers were necessary for Mary's law practice, the court said, the trial judge properly granted the motion to garnish Grant's wages.

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