Crisitellov.Meddock (In re Crisitello)

D073607 (Cal. Ct. App. Aug. 15, 2018)




Law Offices of Stephen Temko and Dennis Geis Temko for Appellant. Law Offices of Basil Chapman and Basil T. Chapman for Respondent.


California Rules of Court, rule 8.1115(a), prohibits courts and parties from citing or relying on opinions not certified for publication or ordered published, except as specified by rule 8.1115(b). This opinion has not been certified for publication or ordered published for purposes of rule 8.1115. (Super. Ct. No. IND102209) APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of Riverside County, Otis Sterling III, Judge. Affirmed. Law Offices of Stephen Temko and Dennis Geis Temko for Appellant. Law Offices of Basil Chapman and Basil T. Chapman for Respondent.

Appellant David Paul Meddock appeals from a judgment following a bench trial in which the family court found he and respondent Maryann Crisitello had entered into valid marital settlement agreements (MSAs) dividing and transmuting particular marital property and retirement accounts, and rejected Meddock's undue influence claims. On appeal, Meddock challenges the court's findings and conclusions. Asking us to take judicial notice of documents evidencing transfers of two of the parties' major assets, Crisitello responds that actions Meddock took in November 2015, before the court entered its judgment, "effectively settled" the dispute and have rendered the case moot for all practical purposes. She otherwise contends the court's rulings are supported by substantial evidence. We decline to judicially notice Crisitello's documents. On the merits, we reject Meddock's contentions, and affirm the judgment.


We take much of the factual background from the family court's final statement of decision, and other facts from the trial testimony, viewing it in the light most favorable to the judgment.

The record does not contain any objection by Meddock to the court's statement of decision. Because Meddock did not bring defects in that statement to the court's attention before entry of judgment, we apply the doctrine of implied findings and infer factual findings necessary to support the judgment. (Chapala Management Corp. v. Stanton (2010) 186 Cal.App.4th 1532, 1535, fn. 1.)

Meddock and Crisitello married in 1988. Since 1989, Meddock has owned and operated a retail business selling fireplace equipment to contractors, designers and homeowners. In 2008, the parties were experiencing marital problems, and for reasons related to the upcoming presidential election, Meddock left the United States for Mexico in the parties' community property boat, a 58-foot Vantare yacht. Crisitello unsuccessfully tried to get Meddock to bring the yacht back from Mexico, and began contemplating divorce. Meddock neglected his business and began to deplete its income and the parties' bank accounts. Concerned, Crisitello spoke with attorneys. In February 2010, she informed Meddock she had done so, and that she could freeze their accounts. They spoke in detail about the matter; Meddock then presented Crisitello with a handwritten paper (the February 2010 document) reading:

You can have the
1/2 Interest business
Maintain ownership of
all Investments 401—etc.
I own Boat 100%
2/25/2010 [signed David Meddock]

Later that year, Crisitello petitioned for dissolution of her and Meddock's marriage. In November 2012, the trial court found the parties' date of separation was November 28, 2009.

A bench trial commenced in March 2014, and continued on various days in April, May, June, October and December 2014, through January 2015. During the course of those proceedings, Meddock argued his February 2010 handwritten note was only an offer, not a contract, and that the offer had either lapsed in 2010 or was revoked. He also argued his document was not an MSA, in part because there was no evidence either the offer remained or Crisitello had delivered a timely acceptance. Crisitello maintained in part that Meddock had written the February 2010 document to avoid the risk of losing the boat in court proceedings. She argued Meddock had breached his fiduciary duty to her in various ways.

In June 2014, the family court found the February 2010 note was a valid MSA.

The court stated: "I am ruling the document that was prepared on February 25, 2010, was a valid marital settlement agreement between Mr. Meddock and Ms. Crisitello; that she did rely on this agreement with not going forward with what she expressed to Mr. Meddock, which [what] she was going to do was to file for divorce, freeze the assets, refraining him from obtaining further funds from the accounts. She relied on that to her detriment because he continued to withdraw those funds. [¶] So the Court is finding . . . that the parties did agree as part of their pending dissolution that [Ms. Crisitello] would get the truck . . . she's entitled to half the interest of the business, and she's entitled to maintain all of her investment and 401K Plan . . . ." At the same time, the family court found that a December 2010 notarized statement signed by both parties pertaining to their 401K plans and IRAs was also a valid MSA. That document states that both parties "do hereby relinquish any and all rights to my spouse [name] qualified retirement assets including [his/her] 401k and IRA." Crisitello later argued the court's finding as to the December 2010 statement did not conflict with the February 2010 agreement because it merely confirmed the same property division.

The parties submitted proposed statements of decision in September 2015. Meddock's proffered statement of decision addressed the February 2010 document as follows: "Family Code section 1500 states that the property rights of husband and wife prescribed by statute may be altered by agreement. In addition, Family Code section 850 authorizes spouses to transmute community property to the separate property of either spouse. [Crisitello] and [Meddock] testified that on 2/25/2010 and 10/2/2010, she and [Meddock] signed and executed two agreements to divide certain property. They prepared the agreements together and the agreements are reflected in [Crisitello's] exhibits. [Crisitello] confirmed that there was approximately $200,000.00 in [Meddock's] retirement accounts. . . . While at the time of trial, [Meddock] may not have agreed with the division of property, there was no evidence of undue influence, fraud or the like with regard to the making of this agreement. The court finds that the division of property contained in the marital agreement is valid." Meddock's statement of decision proposed that the court award Crisitello the family residence, all retirement accounts in her name, the grey truck, and one-half interest in the parties' business, and award Meddock the yacht and all retirement accounts in his name.

In November 2015, Crisitello sought ex parte relief, averring in a declaration that Meddock was attempting to sell the parties' yacht to a third party before judgment and close the sale on November 6, 2015. She asked the court in part to treat the yacht payments as an unadjudicated asset and order the net sales proceeds be retained in an escrow or her attorney's trust account. In opposition, Meddock's counsel submitted a declaration quoting the court's June 2014 ruling as to the February 2010 document being a valid MSA and pointing out that under that ruling, it was "clear . . . the boat is Mr. Meddock's separate property." The court granted the request, ordering that proceeds from any sale be held in escrow until further court order.

The family court issued a proposed statement of decision in January 2016. It reiterated that the February 2010 document was a valid MSA and represented the parties' intention relating to dividing the marital assets. Thereafter, in supplemental argument, Meddock disputed this conclusion, arguing the document was merely a marital agreement that lacked required language under Family Code section 852 to transmute property. Crisitello argued in response that the transmutation statutes were inapplicable; that the division or allocation of property in an MSA is not a transmutation.

Undesignated statutory references are to the Family Code.

In its final February 2016 statement of decision, the court found that the February 2010 document was a valid MSA. Acknowledging that section 852 required a "writing by an express declaration that is made, joined in, consented to, or accepted by the spouse whose interest in the property is adversely affected," the court found the February 2010 document contained language that effected a transmutation: language "evidenc[ing] an express declaration to change the character and ownership of the property reference[d] in the documents." The court combined its findings as to undue influence and transmutation, stating: "Prior to his drafting the February 25, 2010[ ] agreement, [Meddock] had been told by his [financial advisor] that [Crisitello] was serious about filing for divorce. . . . It is clear that at the time of the February 25, 2010[ ] agreement, [Meddock's] primary desire was to obtain ownership of the yacht, live in Mexico, and gain access to his retirement accounts. [Crisitello's] filing for divorce would have prevented him from realizing these objectives. [¶] As such, it was [Meddock] who proposed the agreement. [The financial advisor] had no control over [Meddock's] access to his retirement accounts. Neither did he or [Crisitello] compel, advise or otherwise influence [Meddock] to sign anything. . . . [Meddock] got exactly that for which he bargained." Further, the court found "[Meddock] prepared the February 25, 2010[ ] written document in his own hand. He made the decision as to what property would be contained in the document and how such property would be divided. . . . [I]t is clear that the document was 'in writing.' Further, it is clear that because [Meddock] drafted the agreement, it was 'made, joined in, consented to or accepted by the spouse whose interest in the property is adversely affected.' This is so notwithstanding his desire to argue against the same now." It found Meddock's claims of undue influence "completely without merit" and that Meddock's "testimony in this regard is devoid of any credibility."

The court entered a final judgment of dissolution on September 1, 2016. On the same day, it ordered release of funds held in escrow from the sale of the yacht.


I. Crisitello's Request for Judicial Notice and to Augment the Record

We first address Crisitello's request that this court take judicial notice, pursuant to Evidence Code section 452, subdivision (h), of several documents that were not before the trial court, for the purpose of demonstrating that Meddock—following the bench trial on the matter—"validat[ed]" the February 2010 document and transmutation, establishing the asserted mootness of Meddock's appeal.

Evidence Code section 452, subdivision (h) provides that the court may take judicial notice of "[f]acts and propositions that are not reasonably subject to dispute and are capable of immediate and accurate determination by resort to sources of reasonably indisputable accuracy." (See Ragland v. U.S. Bank National Association (2012) 209 Cal.App.4th 182, 193.) However, while courts may take judicial notice of certain recorded and official documents, " 'we do not take judicial notice of the truth of all matters stated therein.' " (See Gerawan Farming, Inc. v. Agricultural Labor Relations Board (2018) 23 Cal.App.5th 1129, 1149, fn. 24; Ragland, at pp. 193-194 [declining to judicially notice contents of a department of treasury audit report]; Love v. Wolf (1964) 226 Cal.App.2d 378, 403 [courts may judicially notice public records but not the truth of all matters stated therein].)

Specifically, Crisitello asks this court to take judicial notice of an interspousal deed of the family residence recorded in November 2015 transferring the property to Crisitello, and documents that appear to have been generated in 2017 (a Department of Homeland Security abstract of title and certificate of documentation) showing that Crisitello in November 2015 relinquished her interest in the boat to Meddock, and that Meddock sold the boat. Crisitello states she "naturally assumed that their ownership and interests were resolved" until her counsel, who was assertedly "hampered by illness," finally discovered the documents were not filed with the trial court. According to Crisitello, these documents perfected transactions based on the court's June 2014 ruling that the February 2010 document was a valid MSA, and they are not reasonably subject to dispute but are capable of immediate and accurate determination. Crisitello also asks us to augment the record with these documents under Code of Civil Procedure section 909.

"The Court of Appeal has the same power as the trial court to take judicial notice of matters properly subject to judicial notice. [Citation.] ' "Matters that cannot be brought before the appellate court through the record on appeal (initially or by augmentation) may still be considered on appeal by judicial notice." ' " (Ragland v. U.S. Bank National Association, supra, 209 Cal.App.4th at p. 193.) But the general rule is that courts will not judicially notice matters that were not before the trial court unless "exceptional circumstances" exist. (Haworth v. Superior Court (Ossakow) (2010) 50 Cal.4th 372, 379; Vons Companies, Inc. v. Seabest Foods, Inc. (1996) 14 Cal.4th 434, 444, fn. 3; In re Marriage of Eaddy (2006) 144 Cal.App.4th 1202, 1209-1210.) And a court may properly decline to take judicial notice of documents that should have been presented to the trial court in the first instance, particularly where there is no explanation for the failure to seek judicial notice below. (See Brosterhouse v. State Bar (1995) 12 Cal.4th 315, 325; City of Oakland v. Hassey (2008) 163 Cal.App.4th 1477, 1489, fn. 5.)

We deny Crisitello's request. Though the proffered documents were or could have been available in November 2015, they were not presented to the court, which was at the time still in process of drafting its statement of decision. Crisitello provides no explanation of extraordinary circumstances otherwise that would justify this court taking judicial notice of the existence of these documents. Additionally, Meddock's effort to sell the parties' boat in November 2015, and his position taken at that time that the boat was his separate property, is apparent from documents already in the appellate record. Meddock's position is also exhibited in his proposed statement of decision, in which he proposed the court find "valid" the parties' agreement via the February 2010 document to divide property, and also reject his undue influence claim. As we explain, Meddock's judicial admissions to this effect and others permit us to affirm the judgment without judicially noticing the requested materials.

II. Meddock Is Bound by His Judicial Admissions on the Absence of Undue Influence

As a threshold matter, we uphold the judgment to the extent it is based on the absence of undue influence based on Meddock's judicial admissions that occurred when he proposed in his proffered statement of decision that the trial court find "that the division of property contained in the [February 2010 document] is valid" and that "there was no evidence of undue influence, fraud or the like with regard to the making of the [February 2010] agreement." A "judicial admission" is established only when a party judicially "admits" a fact the opposing party also agrees is true. (Barsegian v. Kessler & Kessler (2013) 215 Cal.App.4th 446, 452 ["a judicial admission is ordinarily a factual allegation by one party that is admitted by the opposing party. The factual allegation is removed from the issues in the litigation because the parties agree to its truth"].) Such an admission can occur via a statement by counsel "if the statement was an unambiguous concession of a matter then at issue and was not made improvidently or unguardedly." (Fassberg Construction Co. v. Housing Authority of City of Los Angeles (2007) 152 Cal.App.4th 720, 752 [involving counsel's oral statement].)

Here, Meddock's proposed statement of decision, prepared and submitted by counsel, was a clear, deliberate and unambiguous written concession on the issue of whether the February 2010 document effected a property division without any undue influence. Meddock intended the family court adopt his proposals as its findings, and his statement was in no way ambiguous, nor did it "lack[] the gravity of a complete relinquishment of rights on the issue." (Contra, Irwin v. Pacific Southwest Airlines (1982) 133 Cal.App.3d 709, 714 [counsel's statement will not be treated as an admission if it is "in any way ambiguous . . . [or] lacks the gravity of a complete relinquishment of rights on the issue"].) Meddock is bound by his judicial admission and cannot now contest the issue. "[I]f a factual allegation is treated as a judicial admission, then neither party may attempt to contradict it—the admitted fact is effectively conceded by both sides." (Barsegian v. Kessler & Kessler, supra, 215 Cal.App.4th at p. 452.)

Though the family court did not rely on this ground in its statement of decision, it is a settled principle of appellate review that we review the court's ruling, not its rationale. (Young v. Horizon West, Inc. (2013) 220 Cal.App.4th 1122, 1127, quoting Davey v. Southern Pac. Co. (1897) 116 Cal. 325, 329 ["a ruling or decision, itself correct in law, will not be disturbed on appeal merely because given for a wrong reason"].) As we explain below, we reject Meddock's contentions in any event on the merits.

III. The February 2010 Document Is a Valid Property Division Agreement

The Family Code empowers a husband and wife to alter their property rights by a marital property agreement; they "can contract with each other at any time regarding property . . . . In the absence of fraud or other invalidity, property provisions of an MSA are valid and binding on the court." (Litke O'Farrell, LLC v. Tipton (2012) 204 Cal.App.4th 1178, 1183.) Such agreements are favored in the law. (Adams v. Adams (1947) 29 Cal.2d 621, 624; In re Marriage of Woolsey (2013) 220 Cal.App.4th 881, 897.)

We review a trial court's ruling dividing property for abuse of discretion. (In re Marriage of Dellaria & Blickman-Dellaria (2009) 172 Cal.App.4th 196, 201.) We uphold its factual findings if they are supported by substantial evidence. (Ibid.) Where a trial court's decision presents a pure question of law, such as interpretation of a statute, we review it de novo. (Ibid.)

Here, the family court found the February 2010 document constituted a valid agreement between Meddock and Crisitello to divide their property; the document is a writing signed by Meddock reflecting division of specified items of community property to which Crisitello orally agreed, as she testified at trial. The family court found Crisitello's testimony to be credible, and it ultimately incorporated their agreement into the judgment of dissolution. That Crisitello did not sign the agreement is of no moment, as she accepted it and, as the family court found, relied to her detriment on it in postponing filing for dissolution. Even assuming their agreement was statutorily required to be in writing (see § 2550), the February 2010 document met that requirement and was enforceable; such agreements typically are enforceable as long as the writing is signed "by the party to be charged," here, Meddock. (See, e.g., Civ. Code, § 1624; accord, Ulloa v. McMillin Real Estate & Mortgage, Inc. (2007) 149 Cal.App.4th 333, 339 [to prosecute an action for specific performance of a real estate sales contract against a seller who signed the contract "the buyer need not have signed the contract at all"].)

We reject Meddock's assertion that the February 2010 document was only a "partial" writing in the absence of Crisitello's signature, and his argument that agreements entered into by spouses after separation must be "signed by both parties." The premise of Meddock's first assertion is that the parties' property division agreement is governed by section 2550, which assertedly mandates the signatures of both parties. Section 2550 says nothing about the parties' signatures, and to the extent it constitutes a type of statute of frauds for a property division agreement between spouses, as we have stated, its requirements were met here by Meddock's writing containing his signature. The authority cited for Meddock's latter assertion—McLaughlin v. McLaughlin (1956) 141 Cal.App.2d 494—involved then section 159 of the Civil Code relating to separation agreements, which is "not applicable to all property settlement agreements" between married persons. (Brown v. Barham (1966) 242 Cal.App.2d 696, 703.) Meddock does not further discuss the history of former Civil Code section 159 or McLaughlin in any detail. He has not convinced us either pertain to these circumstances. Finally, the family court incorporated the parties' agreement into the judgment of dissolution; the requirements for enforcing a settlement agreement are irrelevant. (Code Civ. Proc., § 664.6.)

IV. The February 2010 Document Also Effected a Transmutation

A. Standard of Review

Whether the February 2010 document effected a transmutation of the parties' property is subject to our independent, de novo review. (See In re Marriage of Lafkas (2015) 237 Cal.App.4th 921, 932.) " '[I]n deciding whether a transmutation has occurred, we interpret the written instruments independently, without resort to extrinsic evidence. [Citations.] Under the circumstances, we are not bound by the interpretation given to the written instruments by the trial court.' " (Ibid., quoting In re Marriage of Starkman (2005) 129 Cal.App.4th 659, 664; In re Marriage of Bonvino (2015) 241 Cal.App.4th 1411, 1422.) B. Legal Principles

"A married person may transmute the character of property from separate to community or from community to separate by agreement or transfer, with or without consideration. [Citation.] However, the transmutation must meet statutory requirements to be valid. [Citation.] 'A transmutation of real or personal property is not valid unless made in writing by an express declaration that is made, joined in, consented to, or accepted by the spouse whose interest in the property is adversely affected.' " (In re Marriage of Lafkas, supra, 237 Cal.App.4th at p. 938; see also In re Marriage of Valli (2014) 58 Cal.4th 1396, 1400.) This requirement " 'imposes formalities on interspousal transmutations for the purpose of increasing certainty in the determination whether a transmutation has in fact occurred.' " (Lafkas, at p. 938; see also Valli, at p. 1401 [summarizing legislature's intent in adopting statutory transmutation requirements].)

"An 'express declaration' is a writing signed by the adversely affected spouse 'which expressly states that the characterization or ownership of the property is being changed.' [Citation.] 'An "express declaration" does not require use of the terms "transmutation," "community property," "separate property," or a particular locution. [Citation.]' [Citation.] 'Though no particular terminology is required [citation], the writing must reflect a transmutation on its face, and must eliminate the need to consider other evidence in divining this intent. [Citation.]' [Citation.] 'The express declaration must unambiguously indicate a change in character or ownership of property. [Citation.] A party does not "slip into a transmutation by accident." ' " (In re Marriage of Lafkas, supra, 237 Cal.App.4th at p. 938.) C. Analysis

Meddock contends the February 2010 document did not contain the requisite express declaration to effect a transmutation. He argues the statement, "You can have" is one of gift, which, according to Meddock, does not suffice as an express declaration under In re Marriage of Valli, supra, 58 Cal.4th 1396. He further contends his use of the word "can" is ambiguous as to whether he intended to transmute the property and suggests he was merely making an offer that Crisitello was required to accept, but did not by her failure to sign the document. Meddock further argues the words, "I own" and "maintain ownership of" do not indicate any change in character or ownership of the property, as it could have meant the assets remained community assets.

We reject Meddock's assertion that his words, "You can have" is language of a gift, which does not constitute an express declaration. In re Marriage of Valli, on which Meddock relies, does not support his contention. Valli involved the characterization of a life insurance policy purchased with community funds that named the wife as the sole owner. (In re Marriage of Valli, supra, 58 Cal.4th at pp. 1399, 1400.) The Court of Appeal held the policy was the wife's separate property, but the California Supreme Court reversed, rejecting the wife's argument that transmutation requirements did not apply to the transaction because the policy was acquired from a third party. (Id. at p. 1401.) Contrary to Meddock's contention, Valli does not hold that gift language is insufficient to constitute an express declaration, it focused on whether the transmutation statutes applied beyond interspousal transactions to third party transactions. In fact, in reaching its conclusion, it observed, based in part on the transmutation statute's express exemption for gifts of relatively inexpensive personal items (§ 852, subd. (c)) that the giving and receiving of a gift of substantial value between spouses is subject to transmutation requirements. (Valli, at p. 1406.) Meddock's point begs the question whether a transmutation occurred under the law.

On that issue, we cannot say Meddock's words "You can have the [¶] House [¶] Truck-Grey [¶] 1/2 Interest business . . ." are too ambiguous to constitute an express declaration effecting a change or transfer of ownership interests. In Estate of MacDonald (1990) 51 Cal.3d 262, the California Supreme Court held a valid transmutation need not contain any particular language; and made clear it would be enough if a writing said, " 'I give to the [other spouse] any interest I have in' " the property at issue. (Id. at p. 273 [holding under predecessor statute to section 852]; see also In re Marriage of Starkman, supra, 129 Cal.App.4th at p. 664; In re Marriage of Barneson (1999) 69 Cal.App.4th 583, 593 ["The MacDonald test . . . requires only a clear demonstration of a change in ownership or characterization of the property at issue"].) We see Meddock's language akin to that type of statement in MacDonald. Meddock's recitation of the holdings of other cases does not convince us otherwise, as those turn on their individual facts. (Accord, Starkman, at p. 665.) Finally, the transmutation statute did not require Crisitello to sign the writing to indicate acceptance, it requires only that the express declaration be "accepted by the spouse whose interest in the property is adversely affected" (§ 852, subd. (a)), here, Meddock.

Given the foregoing conclusions, we need not decide whether an MSA must comply with the transmutation statutes to be valid, or is not subject to those requirements, as Crisitello maintains.

V. Substantial Evidence Supports the Family Court's Undue Influence Findings

Meddock contends the February 2010 document was the product of undue influence. He argues Crisitello obtained "all of the advantages" from the February 2010 agreement as she received many assets while he received a boat, raising a presumption of undue influence, and Crisitello cannot rebut that presumption by showing he knowingly consented to the transaction with a complete understanding of its legal effect.

"[S]ection 721, subdivision (b) provides in part that 'in transactions between themselves, a husband and wife are subject to the general rules governing fiduciary relationships which control the actions of persons occupying confidential relations with each other. This confidential relationship imposes a duty of the highest good faith and fair dealing on each spouse, and neither shall take any unfair advantage of the other.' In view of this fiduciary relationship, '[w]hen an interspousal transaction advantages one spouse, "[t]he law, from considerations of public policy, presumes such transactions to have been induced by undue influence." ' " (In re Marriage of Kieturakis (2006) 138 Cal.App.4th 56, 84.) This presumption "is regularly applied in marital transactions in which one spouse has deeded property to the other . . . . In such cases, it is evident one spouse has obtained an advantage—the deeded property—from the other." (In re Marriage of Burkle (2006) 139 Cal.App.4th 712, 730.) " ' "When a presumption of undue influence applies to a transaction, the spouse who was advantaged by the transaction must establish that the disadvantaged spouse's action 'was freely and voluntarily made, with a full knowledge of all the facts, and with a complete understanding of the effect of the transaction." ' " (In re Marriage of Fossum (2011) 192 Cal.App.4th 336, 344.)

The issue of undue influence is a question of fact, and the court's findings as to the presumption, including whether the presumption has been overcome, will not be reversed on appeal if supported by substantial evidence. (See In re Marriage of Burkle, supra, 139 Cal.App.4th at p. 737; In re Marriage of Lund (2009) 174 Cal.App.4th 40, 55.) "[U]nder the familiar tenets of the substantial evidence rule, ' " 'In reviewing the evidence on . . . appeal all conflicts must be resolved in favor of the [prevailing party], and all legitimate and reasonable inferences indulged in [order] to uphold the [finding] if possible.' " ' " (In re Marriage of Hill and Dittmer (2011) 202 Cal.App.4th 1046, 1052, quoting In re Marriage of Bonds (2000) 24 Cal.4th 1, 31, superseded by statute on other grounds as stated in In re Marriage of Cadwell-Faso and Faso (2011) 191 Cal.App.4th 945, 956.) We view the record in the light most favorable to the court's order, presume the existence of every fact the court could reasonably have deduced from the evidence, and resolve any conflicts in the evidence in favor of upholding the order. (In re White (2018) 21 Cal.App.5th 18, 29.) It is well established that the trial court must weigh the evidence and determine issues of credibility; these assessments are "binding and conclusive on the appellate court." (Hill and Dittmer, at p. 1052.)

We conclude substantial evidence supports the family court's findings as to undue influence. There was no dispute that Meddock drafted the February 2010 document. At trial, Crisitello testified that the February 2010 agreement giving him the yacht was "what [Meddock] wanted" so he could continue to live on it in Mexico, and that Meddock told her "many times" that she could have the house and he wanted the boat "100 percent." The trial court's undue influence decision specifically turned on Meddock's credibility. Finding Meddock "devoid of any credibility," it completely rejected Meddock's testimony that he was under duress when he prepared the February 2010 agreement. These are determinations that we will not revisit on appeal. (In re Marriage of Hill and Dittmer, supra, 202 Cal.App.4th at p. 1052.) On that ground and based on Crisitello's testimony alone, we may uphold the court's undue influence finding.

In sworn testimony during motions in limine, Meddock admitted he drafted the February 2010 document, and that he had included all of the "significant assets." He disavowed a claim he had made under oath during an earlier deposition that he had signed the document "under duress" in order to obtain a pink slip for a vehicle impounded in Mexico. --------

Meddock's remaining arguments do not properly apply the substantial evidence standard of review. That is, he argues the evidence shows Crisitello "obtained a sizable advantage" by the February 2010 agreement. But the relevant inquiry is whether the trial court's finding that Crisitello did not exert undue influence over Meddock or obtain an unfair advantage lacks substantial evidence. (See In re Marriage of Lund, supra, 174 Cal.App.4th at p. 56; In re Marriage of Burkle, supra, 139 Cal.App.4th at p. 732 ["a presumption of undue influence arises only if one of the spouses has obtained an unfair advantage over the other"].) Meddock does not address that question, and thus we uphold the trial court's finding for Meddock's failure to demonstrate error on that point. Further, even if the evidence showed the February 2010 agreement advantaged only Crisitello, we would conclude substantial evidence supports a finding that Crisitello rebutted any presumption of undue influence. The court was permitted to make its findings by inferences drawn from all of the facts and circumstances; it was not required to point to direct evidence, which is "rarely obtainable" on the question of undue influence. (Lintz v. Lintz (2014) 222 Cal.App.4th 1346, 1355.) Meddock was a sophisticated long-time business owner who by his own admission drafted the February 2010 document when Crisitello advised him she was considering filing for divorce; the family court was entitled to conclude on this record that he did so voluntarily so as to avoid court proceedings, with full knowledge of the facts and understanding that it would constitute an agreement to divide his and Crisitello's significant assets.


The judgment is affirmed.