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iStock-1139699594-300x200When a parent in a Texas custody case fails to comply with a court order, the other parent may petition for enforcement of the court order. The parent seeking enforcement may pursue an order of contempt, which can result in six months’ jail time, a fine of $500 per violation, or both. A father recently appealed a contempt order against him, arguing in part that the trial court failed to inform him of his rights to an attorney and against self-incrimination.

Mother Files Enforcement Action Against Father

Several months after the divorce, each party filed an enforcement petition alleging the other violated the decree.  The mother asked the court to hold the father in contempt, incarcerate him for up to 180 days, put him on community supervision for 10 years, order him to pay a $500 fine for each violation, and award her attorney’s fees. She alleged he failed to provide documents needed to file tax returns, failed to sign documents to transfer property, and repeatedly interfered with her possession of the child.

A flight delay had resulted in the mother losing two days of possession. The other incidents were related to a disagreement regarding the exchange of possession.  Under the decree, the father was required to surrender the child to the mother at the  daycare or school, in the parking lot of a specified grocery store if the daycare or school was closed.  The decree further permitted each party to “designate any competent adult to pick up and return the child. . .” and required either the party or a designated adult to be present for the drop off.

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Insurance agent checking policy documents in office.

When parties to a Texas divorce case enter into a mediated settlement agreement (“MSA”) that meets the statutory requirements, the MSA is generally binding and the divorce decree must adopt the agreement.  An MSA may not be enforceable, however, if it was procured by fraud or other dishonest means.

A wife recently challenged a divorce decree incorporating  an MSA that she asserted was procured by fraud. A divorce decree was issued in Dubai and both parties appealed.  The wife subsequently petitioned for divorce and to modify the Dubai court orders in Texas. During discovery in the Texas cases, the husband disclosed one bank account.

The parties signed an MSA that gave the wife half of a retirement account in the husband’s name, $94,000 in cash, and the real and personal property and accounts in her own name or possession. The husband received the other half of the retirement account, real property in Florida, and the real and personal property and accounts in his name or possession. The parties also agreed to cease discovery, except as to issues involving the child.

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iStock-545456068-300x184A court may proceed with a Texas divorce case even if a party does not appear for the trial. In some cases, a party who fails to respond to divorce papers or appear at trial may be entitled to a new trial, but they must meet certain requirements.  In a recent case, a husband appealed the denial of a new trial and challenged the property division in a default divorce.

According to the appeals court’s opinion, the parties lived in the husband’s home in Texas after their marriage in Nigeria.  The husband bought a home in New Hampshire and moved there in 2017.  The wife petitioned for divorce in 2018.

The trial court issued a temporary restraining order prohibiting the husband from interfering with the wife’s health insurance, but he informed the insurer they were divorced while the divorce was pending. The wife’s coverage was cancelled.  The wife had to pay $7,500 for medical expenses that the insurer had approved before cancellation. The trial court also prohibited the husband from terminating utility services, but the wife alleged he had them disconnected repeatedly.

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iStock-952098878-300x200When a trial court orders income withholding for Texas child-support arrearages, the amount withheld must either be sufficient to pay off the arrearages within two years, or must be an additional 20% added to the current monthly support, whichever would result in the arrearages being paid off sooner. Tex. Fam. Code § 158.003. The court may, however, extend the timeframe for paying the arrearages if it finds the two-year timeframe would cause the party, their family, or the children unreasonable hardship. Tex. Fam. Code § 158.007.  A custodial aunt recently appealed an order that would allow a father to pay off child-support and medical-support arrearages he owed her over 25 to 30 years.

Aunt Awarded Child Support and Medical Support

The child’s aunt intervened in a suit affecting the parent-child relationship in 2005 and was awarded child support from the child’s father.  The court found the father in contempt for failing to pay the child support and awarded the aunt a judgment for the arrearages in 2006.

The trial court ultimately appointed the aunt and the father joint managing conservators, but ordered that the child would live primarily with the aunt. Both the mother and father were ordered to pay child support to the aunt. The father was ordered to pay $160 in child support and $70 in medical support each month.  The support was to begin September 1, 2006 and continue until the child’s 18th birthday, graduation from high school, marriage, or death.

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property-division-300x110Courts must divide community property in a “just and right” manner in Texas divorce cases.  The property division does not have to be mathematically equal, but should be equitable to both parties.  To achieve a just and right division, the court needs evidence of the value of the assets before it.  In a recent case, a husband challenged a property division, arguing the court had divested him of his separate property and did not have sufficient evidence to fairly divide the community estate.

The husband petitioned for divorce in 2017. His petition stated there was no community property to be divided.

The wife asked for a disproportionate share of the community estate, her own separate property, and reimbursement for community funds she alleged the husband used for the benefit of his separate property.

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iStock-545456068-300x184A trial court may order a post-divorce division of community property that was not divided or awarded to either spouse in a Texas divorce decree. Tex. Fam. Code § 9.201.  The court may not, however, order a post-divorce division of property that was already divided in the divorce. The legal doctrine of res judicata prevents a party from re-litigating issues such as categorization of assets or improper division in a new case.  Parties must instead address such issues through direct appeals. In a recent case, a wife sought a post-divorce division of certain bonuses the husband received after the divorce.

The parties married in 2014, and the wife petitioned for divorce the next year.  The husband included several bonuses in his asset inventory. He listed a $0 value for the bonuses that would only be payable after the divorce if he remained employed on the designated date. He testified they had no value because they were conditional on future events.

The wife argued the future bonuses were deferred compensation for work performed during the marriage and estimated their value at more than $4 million.

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iStock-848796670-300x200In some Texas custody cases, parents may agree to a support order that differs from the child-support guidelines. A Texas appeals court recently considered what evidence was necessary to support a modification when the father’s income had increased significantly since the agreed order.

The trial court issued an agreed order in 2013 following a mediated settlement agreement between the parties.  The parties agreed the father’s child support would be $1,000 per month, because he would pay all of the travel costs when the mother moved to Virginia (which she did shortly after the agreement).

In 2017, the mother sought an increase in child support by filing a modification suit. Since the original agreed order, the father’s income had increased dramatically. The trial court ordered an increased monthly payment, but the appeals court reversed the order and remanded for a new trial, finding insufficient evidence supporting the amount ordered.

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5thingsdivorcecourt_header-300x163Tex. Fam. Code § 153.009(a) requires the court in a Texas custody case to interview a child who is at least 12 years old to determine their wishes regarding custody, “on the application of a party. . . “ A father recently challenged a court’s failure to interview the children in a custody case.

The mother petitioned to increase child support for the parties’ three teenage children and require the father to pay their extracurricular expenses.  The father asked to be named the primary managing conservator with the exclusive right to designate the children’s primary residence.

The parties stipulated that $2,760 was the amount the father should pay under the Texas Family Code’s “guidelines.” The trial court ordered the father to pay not only $2,760 monthly, but also half of the children’s extracurricular expenses. The trial court also denied his request to have the exclusive right to designate the children’s primary residence. Continue Reading ›

iStock-1214358087-300x169Texas law presumes that property possessed by a spouse during or on dissolution of the marriage is community property.  Tex. Fam. Code § 3.003.  The presumption can only be rebutted by clear-and-convincing evidence the property is separate. In a recent case, a husband challenged the characterization and distribution of property in his divorce.

The parties got married in 2008 and separated in 2018.  The wife moved into her own apartment and filed for divorce in March 2018.

The wife submitted an inventory and appraisement, a copy of her student-loan activity, and a proposed property division.  The husband also submitted an inventory and appraisement, as well as account statements and receipts.

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iStock-1287431987-300x200When a couple enters into a Texas pre-marital agreement or post-marital agreement, they may include an arbitration provision in the agreement. Arbitration can be a cost-effective way to resolve disputes, but an arbitration decision often cannot be appealed. In a recent case, a wife appealed a final divorce decree confirming an arbitration award, arguing the arbitrator exceeded her authority.

Husband and Wife Enter into Post-Nuptial Agreement During Marriage

During the marriage, the parties signed an agreement to make “what would otherwise be community property instead be separate property.” The agreement included an arbitration provision.

When the agreement was executed, the husband was president of a company and the wife was vice president. The agreement stated that the parties agreed each of them would “be guaranteed to receive equal pay and bonuses as both President and Vice President. . .”

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