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does-adultery-affect-alimony-in-idaho-1080x600-1When the parties to a Texas divorce agree on a property division, they may agree that certain obligations or conditions must be met.  If a party fails to meet their obligations as agreed to and set forth in the divorce decree, they may not be entitled to the property they were expecting.  In a recent case, a husband challenged a court order requiring him to reimburse the wife for certain tax liabilities after she failed to provide him the documentation required to calculate the amount he owed in accordance with the decree.

Wife Fails to Comply with Requirements of Divorce Decree

The parties’ mediated settlement agreement was incorporated into their divorce decree. The decree required the wife to withdraw funds from the husband’s pension plan. After paying certain debts, her attorney was to distribute 30% of the remainder to the wife and 70% to the husband. The decree required the husband to reimburse the wife 70% of her income tax liability for those funds. The decree ordered the wife have two draft income tax returns prepared, one showing the pension plan funds as income and the other not including the funds, to allow the husband to calculate that reimbursement. She was to provide the husband with the draft returns by June 1 of the year after the year the funds were liquidated.

The wife hired a tax preparation company.  The first draft return was a joint return with her new husband and included his wages, her wages, her social security disability income, and the liquidated pension plan funds.  The second draft return indicated it was a joint return, but only included her wages.  She sent the drafts to the husband before the deadline. He informed her he needed a draft return that included only her wages and the liquidated pension plan funds.  The wife went back to the tax preparer multiple times, but said they kept getting it wrong.

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iStock-1215119911A trial court must divide community property in a “just and right” manner in a Texas divorce.  The court must properly characterize the property before it in order to achieve a just and right division. Characterization can be complex when the parties have significant assets acquired through various means.  It can get even more complicated when the parties have ownership interests in business entities that also own property.

A husband recently appealed the property division in his divorce decree, arguing the court had improperly awarded him property owned by business entities as his separate property. The parties got married in 1993.  They lived in Connecticut, but the wife moved to Texas in 2018 for a job.  The husband remained in Connecticut where his construction businesses were located. He told the wife, however, that he would move to Texas in a year to a year and a half, but ultimately did not do so.

Wife Files for Divorce

The wife petitioned for divorce in 2019.  The husband’s father and his company filed suit against three of the husband’s businesses a few days before the divorce trial. The lawsuit alleged the husband’s companies owed his father’s company $770,644 for equipment rental.

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iStock-1183385986-scaledTexas divorce cases can involve multiple areas of law. Contract law applies to pre-marital and post-marital agreements. Contract law may also apply to agreements the parties enter into as part of a divorce.  In a recent case, a portion of a wife’s claims for contractual alimony was barred by the contract statute of limitations.

When the parties divorced in 2012, they entered into a written agreement.  Their divorce decree included a provision for “Contractual Alimony,” with the parties agreeing that the husband would pay the wife $4,000 per month, payable on the first of the month with a five-day grace period before the payment would be considered late.  The contractual alimony was to be paid from June 2013 to May 2015. The decree further stated that the wife could accelerate the payments if the husband defaulted and failed to cure within 30 days of receiving notice of intent to accelerate.

Wife Moves to Enforce Contractual Alimony

The wife moved to enforce the alimony requirements on March 26, 2019. She alleged the husband had failed to make the payments starting in December 2013.  She asked the court to order him to pay the past due payments, interest, and fees and costs.

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iStock-483611874The trial court has some discretion in determining the modified amount of child support when it has determined that a Texas child support order should be modified. Tex. Fam. Code § 154.125 provides a schedule of percentages that are presumptively applied when the parent’s net monthly resources do not exceed a specified amount. The trial court, however,  may consider the listed factors or “any other reason” to determine the application of those amounts is not in the best interest of the child.  Tex. Fam. Code § 154.123. There must be evidence of the child’s “proven needs” in the record for the court to deviate upwards from the guidelines. Tex. Fam. Code § 154.126.

A father recently challenged a modification to his child support obligation, arguing the trial court improperly deviated from the presumptive amount. According to the appeals court’s opinion, the parties’ 2017 divorce decree obligated the father to pay $1,710 in child support each month for one child (i.e., max child support at the time). In 2018, he petitioned to modify the amount of child support, claiming his income had decreased.

Father Seeks Reduction in Child Support

The father lived in California and worked as a vice president, selling software testing. His base salary was $80,000, but he also earned commissions and a significant bonus (up to 50% of his base salary). The mother had been a homemaker, but had just begun providing catering services at the time of the hearing.  She had earned approximately $1,400 for the one event she had catered at the time of trial.

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iStock-531351317Texas family law considers Social Security disability benefits to be a substitute for the parent’s earnings. Pursuant to Tex. Fam. Code § 157.009, when a child receives a lump-sum payment due to the parent’s disability, the parent is entitled to a credit applied to any arrearage and interest. Additionally, when a trial court applies the child support guidelines to a parent who receives disability benefits, the court must determine how much child support would be ordered under the guidelines then subtract the value of any benefits paid to the child as a result of the parent’s disability.  Tex. Fam. Code § 154.132.

The Office of the Attorney General (“OAG”) recently appealed a trial court order applying a lump sum disability payment as a credit to future child support. The trial court signed the parents’ divorce decree in 2016.  The court ordered the father to pay $603.25 in monthly child support.  He filed a petition for modification in 2018, asking the court to modify his child support obligations. The OAG intervened, stating he owed back child support and asking the court to enter judgment for the arrearages and accrued interest.

Father Argues He is Entitled to Future Credit for Disability Payment

The OAG stated in its brief that the father had started receiving Social Security Disability benefits and the children had received a lump sum benefit payment. The OAG contended that amount could only be used as a credit against the father’s arrearage and not for future child support.  The father, however, asked the court to give him a credit against his future obligation.

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iStock-1033856542Texas family law presumes a man is the father of a child in certain circumstances, including when he is married to the child’s mother at the time of the birth or when he continuously resides with the child for the first two years of the child’s life and holds himself out to others as the child’s father. Tex. Fam. Code § 160.204.  A Texas trial court must generally order genetic testing to determine parentage if one of the parties requests it, but that is not the case if there is a presumed father. Tex. Fam. Code § 160.502. When there is a presumed father, the court may deny the request for genetic testing if the conduct of the requesting party estops them from denying parentage and it would be inequitable to disprove the presumed father’s parentage.  In deciding whether to deny a request for genetic testing, the court must consider the child’s best interests, including certain enumerated factors. Tex. Fam. Code § 160.608

A man recently challenged a court’s order for genetic testing and subsequent adjudication that he was not the child’s father. The child was born while the appellant was in a relationship with the child’s mother.  According to the appeals court’s opinion, the appellant was aware he was not the child’s biological father but agreed to be listed as the father on the birth certificate.  The appellant and the mother broke up, but the appellant continued to see the child nearly every day.  The mother subsequently denied him access to the child after they were unable to reach a child-support agreement.

Man Petitions to Adjudicate Paternity

The appellant petitioned to be named a joint managing conservator of the child in 2016.  The trial court ordered genetic testing. When the results showed the appellant was not the child’s biological father, the trial court adjudicated him not to be the child’s father.  The appellant then appealed and asked the appeals court to name him joint managing conservator.

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divorce-property-fraudIn some cases, a party to a Texas divorce may agree to a settlement that seemingly has less-than-favorable terms.  For example, a party may agree to their spouse receiving property with a higher monetary value to ensure they receive property that has personal value to them. In a recent case, a husband alleged the wife committed “fraud by nondisclosure” by entering into a Mediated Settlement Agreement (“MSA”) without disclosing that the FBI had possession of certain items that were to be awarded to him under that MSA.

Husband is Awarded Certain Items He Believes are in Wife’s Possession

The parties agreed to the MSA, which gave the wife the personal property in her possession with certain exceptions, including a laptop and cell phone.  These items were explicitly given to the husband in the MSA. When the husband learned that the wife did not actually have possession of these items, he moved to set aside the MSA. The husband testified that the wife having those items was “a key factor” in his agreement to the MSA and the wife receiving so much joint property and custody of their child. He said the contents on those devices could have a negative effect on his military career. He had initially believed they were in the wife’s possession, because he had left them at the home and she had pictures and videos from the devices.  He had previously petitioned for those items to be returned to him, and the wife had subsequently asked to keep all of the possessions in the marital home.

Husband Moves to Set Aside MSA – But is Denied

After he signed the MSA, the husband learned the FBI had both devices. He moved to set aside the MSA in May, arguing the wife committed fraud when she failed to disclose that she did not have the devices. The trial court denied the motion, and the husband appealed.

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iStock-1270267953Texas is one of the few states that still recognizes “informal marriage,” also sometimes known as “common law marriage.” A party who petitions for divorce from an informal marriage  often must  prove the existence of the informal marriage in the first place. To prove there was an informal marriage, the party must show the couple had an agreement to be married, subsequently lived as spouses together in Texas, and represented themselves as married. Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 2.401. Furthermore, all of these elements must occur at the same time.  Evidence of an informal marriage may include evidence the parties addressed each other as spouses, conducted themselves as married people, or lived together. Evidence that the parties lived together and represented themselves as married is not alone sufficient to establish the existence  of an agreement to be married.

In a recent case, an alleged husband challenged the court’s finding of the existence of an informal marriage. The parties moved to Texas from Colorado with the alleged wife’s two children in 1985. They separated in early 2012.  In 2015, the alleged wife filed a trespass to try title suit, claiming joint ownership in real property due to an informal marriage.  That lawsuit was consolidated with her subsequent divorce action.

The trial court ultimately found the parties had been in an informal marriage.  The court granted a divorce and divided their property.  The husband appealed, arguing there was insufficient evidence to support the existence of an informal marriage.

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5thingsdivorcecourt_headerA court should consider a number of factors in deciding a Texas custody case.  Even when the court determines the parents should be joint managing conservators, the court does not have to award equal periods of possession and access to the child to each parent. Tex. Fam. Code § 153.135.  Under Texas law, there is a rebuttable presumption that the standard possession order serves the child’s best interests.  Tex. Fam. Code § 153.252.  A father recently challenged the divorce decree giving the mother the right to designate the child’s primary residence and awarding him the standard possession order.

Trial Court Initially Awards Father Primary Custody

According to the appeals court’s opinion, the parties’ child was born about three months after they married in 2014.  The parties separated in 2016 and the mother petitioned for divorce in March 2017. The court signed temporary order giving the father the exclusive right to designate the child’s primary residence in Travis County.

At the custody hearing, there was evidence the mother had sustained a serious brain injury the previous year.  There was significant testimony about her mental health before and after the separation and about how her injury affected her ability to take care of the child.

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iStock-543681178Under federal law, a court may not treat military disability benefits as community property for purposes of property distribution in a Texas divorce case. A husband recently challenged the property distribution in his divorce decree, arguing the court had improperly divided a portion of his military disability benefits.

Trial Court Divides Husband’s Military Retirement Benefits

The wife petitioned for divorce and sought a majority of the community assets.  The court granted the divorce on grounds of insupportability and adultery.  The decree gave the wife 55% of the husband’s disposable military retired pay, attorney’s fees, and conditional appellate attorney’s fees. The husband appealed.

The husband contended the 55% of his disposable military retired pay awarded to the wife erroneously included disability payments. The wife, however, argued the award did not include disability benefits and the decree had specifically awarded him his “VA Disability and Social Security Disability benefits” as separate property.

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