Guess v. Bernhardson et al.

Facts: A divorced spouse obtains a spousal support judgment against their former partner. The former partner later purchases a residential property. A judgment lien attaches to the title of the property due to the spousal support judgment. The amount of the judgment lien becomes fixed at the time the property is either encumbered or sold. While current on their spousal support payments, the former partner obtains a mortgage secured by a trust deed on the property, fixing the amount of the judgement lien at zero dollars. Years later, the former partner becomes delinquent on both their spousal support payments and mortgage. The mortgage holder forecloses on the property and the property is sold to a new owner.

Claim: The divorced spouse seeks to enforce their judgment lien on the new owners claiming the judgment lien is senior to the foreclosed mortgage lien and became fixed with value when the property was sold to the new owner since the former partner was delinquent on spousal support payments at the time the property was sold.

Counterclaim: The new owner claims their interest in the residential property has priority over the divorced spouse’s lien since the amount of the spousal support lien became fixed without value when the property was encumbered.

Holding: A California court of appeals holds the spousal support lien does not have priority since the lien has no value as it became fixed at the time the property was encumbered when the former partner was not delinquent on spousal support payments. [Guess v. Bernhardson et al. (November 10, 2015) __CA4th__]