A court must order a just and right division of the marital estate in a Texas divorce.  Once the divorce is final and the property has been divided, the property division generally may not be re-litigated.  The trial court does, however, retain the power to clarify and enforce the division.  Tex. Fam. Code § 9.002; Tex. Fam. Code § 9.008. The court may not alter or change the substantive property division, but may render additional orders to enforce, clarify, assist in implementing, or specify the manner of effecting the property division. Tex. Fam. Code § 9.006.  A former husband recently challenged a trial court’s partial denial of his request for clarification and enforcement.

According to the opinion of the appeals court, the final divorce decree awarded the husband certain personal property, specifically including the outdoor furniture purchased from a particular person and any property the wife had removed from the homestead, including certain dining room furniture and two bronze statues.

Clarification and Enforcement Hearing

The husband petitioned for clarification and enforcement of the property division, alleging the wife had not turned over certain property awarded to him, including two bronze statues, certain patio furniture he had purchased from a specified individual, and certain dining room furniture.  He asked the court to order her to turn them over by a specified date, and to award him their replacement value if she did not.

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The court in a Texas divorce must make a just and right division of the marital estate.  The estate does not have to be equally divided if there is a reasonable basis in the record for an unequal division.  A former husband recently challenged, for the second time, the property division in his divorce.

The First Appeal

In his first appeal, the husband argued the trial court erred in its property division by including the value of a condominium that he claimed belonged to his father.  The appeals court concluded the condominium belonged to the husband, wife, and the husband’s father and that the trial court had erred in including its total value in the community estate.  The appeals court determined including only the two spouses’ interest in the valuation of the community estate would materially affect the property division, it remanded to the trial court for a just and right division.

The trial court signed an order on remand that stated its original community property division was just and right.  Furthermore, the trial court awarded the wife appellate attorney’s fees.

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Texas custody orders commonly include geographic restrictions limiting a parent’s ability to relocate the children outside a specified area.  Regardless of whether there is a geographic restriction, a parent may seek to prevent the other parent from relocating with the children, often through modification of the custody order to either modify or add a geographic restriction or to change the parent with the exclusive right to designate the children’s primary residence.  A mother recently challenged a modification giving the father the right to establish the children’s primary residence after she provided him notice of her intent to move to another county.

According to the appeals court’s opinion, the parties were appointed joint managing conservators with equal possession in the agreed final divorce decree.  The mother was awarded the exclusive right to establish the primary residence for their two children, with a geographic restriction.

Pursuant to the decree, the mother could move the children to Harris or Dallas County if she provided the father six months’ notice of her intent to relocate and if the father successfully “secure[d] a transfer in employment” to that county.  She notified him in 2020 that she intended to move to Harris County.

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When a person seeks divorce from an informal marriage, they often must prove the informal marriage existed.  To prove a Texas informal marriage, the party must show by the preponderance of the evidence that the couple agreed to be married, subsequently lived together in Texas as spouses, and held themselves out to others as married.  Tex. Fam. Code § 2.401. A man recently appealed summary judgment in his divorce case on the ground he had not raised an issue of fact as to the existence of an informal marriage.

Divorce Case

The petitioner filed for divorce in November 2021, alleging the parties had been married on or about March 18, 2002.

In her answer, the respondent asserted a verified defense that they parties were not married. She filed a motion for summary judgment, attaching tax returns, deeds, and other exhibits that she argued showed the parties had not represented themselves as married “to the general public or others.” She also averred that the petitioner had never presented her as his wife to his children, that his children had not socialized with her or her family because they knew she was not the petitioner’s wife, and that he lived with another woman.

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In some circumstances, a court may order supervised visitation in a Texas custody case if necessary to protect the child’s health and safety.  Supervised visitation allows the parent and child to maintain their relationship, while protecting he child’s safety.  A father recently appealed a modification order requiring him to comply with certain conditions, including supervised visitation.

In the parents’ final divorce decree, they were both appointed joint managing conservators of the children.  The mother was awarded the exclusive right to designate the residence of the children within a specified county.  The decree required the father to maintain a Soberlink subscription, attend Alcoholics Anonymous, and have supervised visitation.

The trial court modified the parent-child relationship after finding the father was in contempt of the decree in January 2021. The modification order required the father’s visitation to be supervised in accordance with the conditions set out in the order.  He was required to have an “adult assistant/babysitter present” who stayed within line of sight and hearing of the father and children any time he had possession.  The assistant/babysitter was required to stay within line of sight and hearing of the father and children.  The parties were to mutually agree upon the assistant/babysitter, or the court would designate one.  The court stated its ruling resulted from the contempt finding.

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Trial courts are permitted to award Texas spousal maintenance in only limited circumstances.  If the spouse meets the eligibility requirements for maintenance, the court must consider a number of factors to determine the nature, amount, and duration.  Tex. Fam. Code § 8.052. Spousal maintenance is limited to the lesser of $5,000.00 or 20% of the spouse’s average monthly gross income. Certain items are excluded from “gross income,” including service-connected Veterans Affairs disability payments, supplemental security income (“SSI”), social security benefits, or disability benefits. Tex. Fam. Code § 8.055.  A husband recently challenged an order requiring him to pay spousal maintenance.

Wife Seeks Spousal Maintenance

According to the appeals court’s opinion, the parties got married in 2006 and the wife filed for divorce in 2019.  The wife sought spousal maintenance pursuant to Chapter 8 of the Texas Family Code and based on “contractual alimony.” She testified she was unable to work due to medical issues.  She said she lived with her daughter and did not have any income.

The wife testified the husband received $3,809.02 monthly from the Department of Veterans Affairs (“VA”) and $816 per month in social security.  She also testified that he also earned income by performing in a band.  She said he was paid under the table and was unable to estimate how much he earned.

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A court may retroactively modify a Texas child support order in some circumstances, but it generally may only do so as to child support obligations that accrue after the earlier of the date of service of citation or an appearance in the modification suit.  Tex. Fam. Code 156.401.  A father recently challenged a modification terminating his child support obligation, arguing it should have applied retroactively to the date of his son’s eighteenth birthday.

When the son was fourteen, he enrolled in the American School, which is a private, distance-learning school.  Students complete their course by correspondence and computer-based work.  Students take two courses at a time and must complete a course before being provided another.  Courses earn one-half to one unit, and students must earn eighteen units to graduate high school.

The son’s brother sadly died in April 2017.  The mother moved out of the marital home in June and the parents filed for divorce in July.  The son remained in the home with his father.  With all of this going on, the son fell behind and performed no work for his courses for a period of nine to ten months.

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A trial court may not amend, modify, alter or change the substantive property division in a divorce decree after expiration of its plenary power. The court retains jurisdiction, however, to enforce or clarify the property division in the divorce decree.  A former husband recently appealed a trial court’s appointment of a receiver for the marital residence, arguing it constituted an improper modification of the property division set forth in the divorce decree.

Divorce Proceedings

The parties got married in 2009 and separated in October 2020, according to the appeals court’s opinion.  The wife petitioned for divorce in November 2020, and the husband filed a counterpetition.  In its written ruling, the trial court indicated the marital home would be sold with the proceeds equally divided.  The ruling stated the husband was allowed to stay in the house until the sale.

Both the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the Texas Constitution prohibit the state from depriving a person of a liberty interest without due process of law.  Case law has established that parental rights are fundamental liberty interests.  Due process generally requires that a person be given a meaningful opportunity to be heard.  A mother recently appealed her divorce decree, arguing she was deprived of her due process when the court accepted evidence after trial but before entering the final decree.

According to the appeals court, the child was born in March 2020 and the father filed for divorce the following August. In its ruling, the trial court named the parties joint managing conservators and awarded the father the exclusive right to designate the child’s primary residence within two counties. The final decree divided the marital estate, awarding the father $104,738.93 and the mother $69,825.95 from the sale of the home.

Due Process Claims

The mother appealed, arguing the trial court violated her due process rights by accepting certain evidence after the trial.

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A trial court in a Texas divorce case has discretion in how the trial is conducted, but that discretion is not unlimited.  In a recent case, the appeals court determined the trial court abused its discretion by imposing time restrictions that allowed the husband more time to present the case than it allowed the wife and by refusing the wife’s request to present an offer of proof.

According to the appeals court’s opinion, the divorce decree awarded the wife the marital residence; the entire community interest in a business; three of the business’s bank accounts, with the husband receiving half of the funds in them; and the household furniture and other personal property in her possession or control.  The husband was awarded 50% of the equity in the house; certain assets from the business; the furniture and other personal property in his possession or control; and 50% of the business’s accounts receivable.

Enforcement Hearing

The husband filed a motion asking the court to enforce the property division by contempt.

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