Long term relationships that involve joint business dealings prior to marriage can lead to complicated divorces.  In a recent case, a wife challenged a trial court’s finding that she and her husband had formed a business partnership in 1995 and that properties purchased in her name belonged to the partnership.

The wife filed for divorce, alleging the parties married in 2009.  The husband alleged the parties had been informally married since 1984.  He also alleged, in the alternative, that they had entered into a farming and ranching business partnership in 1995.

The parties began a romantic relationship in 1984.  In 1995, the wife bought a property in her name and made all related payments. The husband moved into the property to work on the house.  The wife also worked on the house on weekends.

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Divorce is usually fraught with emotion, but in some cases, a party may be pressured to the point of duress.  Duress exists when there have been threats that prevent a person from exercising their own free will.  Although it is not duress when a person threatens something they have a legal right to do, duress may exist if they exhort or make improper demands of another person.  An agreement signed under duress may be void.  In a recent Texas divorce case, a husband alleged he was under duress when he signed the marital home over to the wife.

The parties married in 1994.  During the marriage, they purchased the home.  They separated in March 2017.  They agreed the wife would take the home and the husband would not have to pay child support, but they never memorialized the agreement.  The husband testified he changed his mind after finding out his wife was unfaithful.

The husband moved out in March 2017.  The wife also filed her divorce petition that month.  She testified that the husband came to the house in April, kicked in the door, and threatened to kill her, her boyfriend, and her grandmother.  She reported the incident to the police.

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When a parent seeks to modify a Texas child support order on the basis of a material and substantial change in financial circumstances, they must prove that such a change occurred.  Doing so requires evidence of the parties’ current income and resources, but it also requires evidence of their income and resources at the time of the previous order.

In a recent case, a father challenged a court’s denial of his petition for modification.  The parents divorced in 2012 and signed an Agreed Final Decree of divorce.  The mother was given the exclusive right to designate their primary residence, but the possession schedule gave each parent possession 50% of the time.

Under the decree, the father was required to pay $1,047.95 in child support each month.  The decree stated it was in accordance with the guidelines in the Texas Family Code, based on the father’s monthly net resources of $4,191.81.

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If a parent fails to pay court-ordered child support in Texas, the obligee may pursue a number of cumulative remedies.  The obligee may seek a contempt of court order, a cumulative money judgment, a child support lien against certain property, a judicial writ of withholding, and an administrative writ of withholding.  The court keeps jurisdiction to confirm the amount of arrearages and render a cumulative money judgment for a motion for enforcement that is filed within 10 years of termination of the obligation or the child reaching adult hood.  Tex. Fam. Code §157.005.

In a recent case, the appeals court allowed an adult to pursue the child support her father owed after her mother’s death.  The father was ordered to pay $250 per month in child support at the time of the divorce in 1980, but did not pay.  The mother initiated an enforcement action in 2011, but it was never heard and she died in 2016.

In 2017, the daughter, then 41 years old, served a notice of application for judicial writ of withholding on her father.  The father moved to stay the issuance of the income withholding order.  The daughter argued the father had failed to timely contest the notice so the arrearages sworn to in the notice had been determined as a matter of law.

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In Texas divorce cases, property is presumed to be community property if either spouse possesses it during the marriage or at the time of the divorce.  Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 3.003.  To rebut the presumption, a spouse must trace the property and clearly identify it as separate by clear and convincing evidence.  How a property is characterized is generally determined based on the character it has at inception, or when the party’s title has vested.

In a recent case, a husband challenged the trial court’s characterization of property received as a gift from the wife’s parents.  When he petitioned for divorce, the husband requested a disproportionate share of the marital estate, due in part to “fault in the breakup…”  He also asked for reimbursement to his separate estate for funds he had expended for the community estate’s benefit.

He testified that the property where the couple lived had been gifted to them by the wife’s parents.  The “Gift Certification” signed by the wife’s parents stated they “intend to give to [husband and wife] a gift . . .” of the lot.  It also listed the relationship as “son in law to be and daughter.” Both the husband and wife signed in acknowledgement of receiving the gift.

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The court in a Texas divorce case may grant a divorce in favor of one party if it finds the other party committed adultery.  There must be “clear and positive” evidence of adultery.  Adultery may occur after separation. In a recent case, a husband challenged the divorce on the grounds of adultery.

The wife petitioned for divorce on the grounds of insupportability and adultery, and cruelty.  She requested a disproportionate share of the community estate.  The trial court found the husband committed adultery.  It named the parents joint managing conservators, with the wife having the exclusive right to designate primary residence.  The possession order granted the husband access to the children on the first, third, and fifth weekends, but only from 10 a.m. on Saturday to 6 p.m. on Sunday.

The trial court denied the husband’s motion to reconsider, modify, correct, or reform its judgment and entered a final decree.  The husband appealed, arguing the trial court abused its discretion in granting the divorce based on a finding of adultery and that the court abused its discretion in “materially deviating” from the Standard Possession Order.

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In some Texas divorce cases, the parties are able to reach an agreement on property division.  Such an agreement is treated as a contract, even when it is incorporated into a final agreed divorce decree.  If there is an ambiguity, the agreement may be reformed to correct a mutual mistake or reflect the parties’ intent.  An ambiguity exists if the meaning is uncertain or could reasonably be interpreted in more than one way.  To show there was a mutual mistake, a party must prove there was a definite agreement that was misstated in the contract due to a mistake of both parties.

In a recent case, a wife moved for clarification to correct the trial court’s omission of the amount of her portion of the husband’s military retirement. The couple divorced in 2000.  The agreed final divorce decree awarded the wife an amount of the husband’s Navy disposable retired pay, and 50% of all increases.  The amount was supposed to be “determined under the formula set forth below,” but the decree did not contain a provision setting forth a specific portion or calculation.  The decree awarded` the portion of the retirement pay “not awarded to [the wife]” to the husband.

The husband started receiving his military retirement benefits in 2015.  When the wife contacted the Defense Finance and Accounting Service to get her share of the benefits, she was told she could not be paid because the decree did not include a formula awarding her a portion of the retirement.

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In a Texas divorce case, the trial court that enters the divorce decree generally maintains continuing and exclusive jurisdiction over the children.  In some situations, however, transfer may be appropriate or even required.  If a party moves to enforce an order, but the child has resided in another county for at least six months, the trial court must transfer the case.  Tex. Fam. Code § 155.201.  To contest a transfer, a party must timely file “a controverting affidavit.”  The controverting affidavit must deny the “grounds for transfer exist . . .”  If the opposing party files a timely qualifying controverting affidavit, then there is a hearing.  If no qualifying controverting affidavit is timely filed, the case must be transferred without a hearing.  The transfer is mandatory if the elements are met, even when an enforcement action is pending.  A mother recently challenged an enforcement order that was followed by a transfer order just two hours later.

The mother was granted the exclusive right to designate the child’s primary residence and to designate it in McLennan County.  According to the appeals court’s opinion, she had moved to McLennan County by the time the divorce decree was entered in April 2018.

The father petitioned for enforcement of possession or access in June 2019 in Harris County, where the divorce decree had been issued.  The mother moved to transfer venue based on a statute requiring a case to be transferred to the county where the child has lived for at least six months.  Tex. Fam. Code § 155.201. The mother submitted an affidavit averring that she and the child had been living in McLennan County for more than six months.

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It is not uncommon for a non-custodial parent who moves away to seek custody.  To change a Texas custody order, the parent must show that the change is in the child’s best interest and that there has been a substantial and material change in circumstances.  A mother recently challenged the denial of her petition for a change in custody.

The parents divorced in 2014 when the child was four.  The parties agreed in the decree the husband had the right to designate the child’s primary residence, but the mother petitioned for that right in December 2016.

The mother said the child lived with her until she enlisted in the Army in 2015.  According to the mother, the child then alternated between her grandmothers.  The mother remarried in 2016 and moved to Fort Hood.  She continued visiting the child most weekends until she was transferred to Poland for part of 2016.  She now lives in Colorado.

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When a party wants a judgment corrected, he or she generally has to challenge it directly within a specific time frame.  In some cases, however, a person may seek to avoid the effect of the judgment through a collateral attack.  A voidable judgment becomes final unless it is attacked directly in accordance with applicable procedural rules, but a void judgment may be challenged at any time.  In a recent case, a Texas appeals court had to determine if a provision in a Texas divorce decree ordering a father to pay the mother’s attorney’s fees was void or voidable.

The divorce decree included a fee provision that ordered the father to pay the mother’s attorney’s fees related “to issues concerning the suit affecting parent-child relationship [“SAPCR”] and the safety and welfare of the children.”

The father moved to modify the decree about a month after it was signed.  He asked for increased possession and decreased child support.  He also challenged the fee provision.  The court’s order increased his possession. In its Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law, the court found there was not a sufficient change in circumstances of either parent or the children to support a change in the father’s child support obligations or the fee provision.  The court ordered him to continue to pay all of the mother’s attorney’s fees related to the SAPCR.

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