Nature of Transmutation

“Transmutation” is the term used to describe a conversion of the character of property from separate to community, from community to separate, or from the separate property of one spouse to the separate property of the other spouse, by means of transfer or written agreement of the spouses. CA Fam. Code section 850.

Subject to the limitations imposed by statute and case law, married persons and registered domestic partners may transmute the character of their property in any of the following ways:

1. From community to separate property of either spouse;

2. From separate property of either spouse to community property;

3. From separate property of one spouse to separate property of the other spouse.

With limited exceptions, a transmutation of real or personal property that takes place on or after January 1, 1985, is not valid unless it is made in writing by an express declaration.

A special exception to the writing requirement exists for certain interspousal gifts. It provides that the writing requirement does not apply to a gift between the spouses of clothing, wearing apparel, jewelry, or other tangible articles of a personal nature that are used solely or principally by the spouse to whom the gift is made and that are not substantial in value, taking into account the circumstances of the marriage.

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