Collins v. Collins

Citation309 P.2d 420,48 Cal.2d 325
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court (California)
Decision Date12 April 1957
PartiesEmily M. COLLINS, Plaintiff and Appellant, v. Robert F. COLLINS, Defendant and Respondent. L. A. 24137.

Vaghan & Brandlin, Vincent E. Lumbleau and Robert P. Schifferman, for appellant.

McLaughlin & Casey and James A. McLaughlin, Los Angeles, for respondent.

SCHAUER, Justice.

Plaintiff appeals from a judgment against her in this action in which she unsuccessfully sued her former husband to set aside a property settlement agreement of the parties and deeds executed by plaintiff to defendant pursuant to such agreement. Plaintiff claims, contrary to the findings and conclusions of the trial court, that defendant induced her to execute the property settlement agreement and deeds by breach of a fiduciary relation to plaintiff. We have concluded that to reverse the judgment would entail usurpative interference with the function of the trier of fact.

Findings and conclusions of the trial court, supported by the evidence, are as follows: In December, 1952, plaintiff told defendant that she wished a divorce because she desired to marry one Blankenship. In June, 1953, plaintiff told defendant that she was going to Nevada to obtain a divorce. On her arrival in Nevada she employed an attorney to represent her in connection with the divorce and a property settlement agreement between plaintiff and defendant. About July 10, 1953, plaintiff's Nevada attorney wrote to defendant asking that a property settlement be prepared so that it could be approved in the Nevada divorce proceeding. After communications between plaintiff's attorney and defendant, plaintiff on August 13, 1953, went to Los Angeles and she and defendant executed a property settlement agreement; plaintiff executed deeds conveying her interest in properties to defendant and defendant executed a deed conveying the residence of the parties to plaintiff. On August 17, 1953, plaintiff, who had returned to Nevada, was granted a default divorce judgment which approved the property settlement agreement. On the same day she married Blankenship.

The trial court further determined as follows: Under the property settlement agreement plaintiff 'waives the necessity of * * * (defendant) specifically listing' properties standing in his name; such properties, it is agreed, become defendant's separate property except for the residence which becomes plaintiff's property. Plaintiff and her attorney began an investigation of the community property of the parties before the execution of the property settlement agreement, but plaintiff did not pursue the investigation because she was satisfied with the terms of the agreement. Defendant did nothing to preclude plaintiff or her attorney from investigation of the property of the parties. Plaintiff when the property settlement was executed relied on the advice of her counsel, and not upon any statement of defendant. Plaintiff desired to obtain the property settlement agreement in order that she could have it approved in her Nevada decree and in order that she could obtain such decree and be free to marry Blankenship.

Further determinations of the trial court are as follows: Defendant was unwilling, when the property settlement agreement was executed, to make concessions to plaintiff other than those embodied in the agreement. Until she executed the property settlement plaintiff had the opportunity, if she was dissatisfied with it, to seek a divorce in California and have her rights to the property there determined. Plaintiff gained an advantage by obtaining the property settlement and a Nevada divorce at an early date. '(U)nder the facts existing in this case, it is immaterial whether the property settlement agreement resulted in the defendant's receiving more of the community assets than the plaintiff received.'

Plaintiff relies on the code rule (Civ.Code, § 158) that 'husband or wife may enter into any engagement or transaction with the other * * * respecting property, which either might if unmarried; subject, in transactions between themselves, to the general rules which control the actions of persons occupying confidential relations with each other, as defined by the title on trusts.' (See Civ. Code, §§ 2228, 2230, 2231, 2234, 2235.) Plaintiff urges that on August 13, 1953, when she executed the property settlement and deeds defendant had a fiduciary duty to her and was required to fully disclose to her the value and character of their property.

Plaintiff, however, had ample oportunity to investigate, with the aid of independent counsel, the character and value of the property of the parties. Plaintiff had contemplated obtaining a divorce for some time before she made the property settlement agreement and obtained the divorce. Defendant did nothing to hinder her investigation of the property or to cause her to execute the agreement precipitately. Defendant owed plaintiff no duty to force her to investigate the properties when she announced that she was satisfied with the agreement prepared by defendant's counsel.

The situation is similar to that in Jorgensen v. Jorgensen (1948), 32 Cal.2d 13, 22-23, 193 P.2d 728. 1 It is there held that 'A husband at the time of divorce or separation is entitled to take a position favorable to his own interest in claiming as his separate property assets that a court might hold to be community property. Confronted with the assertion by the husband that certain assets are his separate property the wife must take her own position and if necessary investigate the facts. (Citations.) If the wife and her attorney are satisfied with the husband's classification of the property as separate or community, the wife cannot reasonably contend that fraud was committed or that there was such mistake as to allow her to overcome the finality of a judgment. * * * Plaintiff is barred from obtaining equitable relief by her admission that she and her attorney did not investigate the facts, choosing instead to rely on the statements of the husband as to what part of the disclosed property was community property.'

The situation here is similar also to that in Cameron v. Cameron (1948), 88 Cal.App.2d 585, 593-595, 199 P.2d 443, where a judgment setting aside a property settlement agreement at the instance of plaintiff wife was reversed. It is there held that '(1) When one undertakes an investigation (as Mrs. Cameron did before she made the property settlement agreement) and proceeds with it without hindrance it will be assumed that he continued until he had acquired all the knowledge he desired and was satisfied with what he learned. He cannot be heard to say that he relied on the representations of the other party. (Citation.) * * * (3) The decision of plaintiff's attorneys to accept defendant's proposal without a contest, although now claimed to have been ill-advised and unfair to her was her decision and she is bound thereby.'

We recognize, and it appears that the trial court here recognized, the principles, stated in such cases as In re Estate of Cover (1922), 188 Cal. 133, 144, 204 P. 583, that 'in those transactions between husband and wife, where admittedly the husband secures an advantage over the wife, the confidential relation existing between them may be invoked to bring into operation the presumption of the use and abuse of the relation. In short, a husband, by reason of the marital relation, is bound in his dealings with his wife to the highest and best of good faith and as a consequence is obligated in such dealings not to obtain and retain any advantage over her resulting from concealment or adverse pressure, and he must, if he would avoid the presumption of undue influence emanating from the procurement of any advantage over her, make full and fair disclosure to her of all that she should know for her benefit and protection concerning the nature and effect of the transaction, or else he must deal with her at arm's length and as he would with a stranger, all the while giving her the opportunity of independent advice as to her rights in the premises (Citations.)' (Italics added.) Here the parties were dealing with one another at arm's length or at least the husband gave the wife every opportunity to deal at arm's length when the settlement agreement was negotiated. The wife had independent advice. The fact that it appears that she was eager to secure a Nevada divorce and that therefore she did not obtain, or have her counsel obtain, a complete listing of the properties of the parties is not chargeable to the husband. As the Cover case, supra (at page 144(6) of 188 Cal., at page 588 of 204 P.), recognizes, when the parties to a marriage are negotiating a property settlement with recognition that their interests are adverse and are dealing at arm's length, neither spouse owes to the other the duty of disclosure which he or she would owe if their relation remained in fact a confidential one. (See Migala v. Dakin (1929), 99 Cal.App. 60, 64, 277 P. 898; Chadwick v. Chadwick (1928), 95 Cal.App. 690, 700, 273 P. 86.) They do not need to be embittered toward each other to act at arm's length; temperate negotiation of adverse interests is much more likely...

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    • July 18, 1989
    ...Cal.Rptr. 423, 591 P.2d 911; Boeseke v. Boeseke (1974) 10 Cal.3d 844, 849-850, 112 Cal.Rptr. 401, 519 P.2d 161; Collins v. Collins (1957) 48 Cal.2d 325, 330-331, 309 P.2d 420; Jorgensen v. Jorgensen (1948) 32 Cal.2d 13, 23, 193 P.2d 728.) These cases are distinguishable from the one before ......
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    ...[Ms. Burkle] and her counsel had reviewed the information which [Mr. Burkle] made available to them. . . ." 20. Cf. Collins v. Collins (1957) 48 Cal.2d 325, 309 P.2d 420 [wife who was aware that her husband had not disclosed any information about their community property, and who waived the......
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