2018_10_agreement-300x165People commonly obtain life-insurance policies and name their spouse as the beneficiary. They do not always remember to update the beneficiary designation when they get divorced.  Under Texas law, designation of a spouse as beneficiary before a divorce will only remain effective after the divorce in certain circumstances.  Generally, either the court or the insured must designate the former spouse as beneficiary, or the former spouse must be designated to receive the proceeds in trust for a child or dependent’s benefit.  In a recent case, an ex-wife challenged a court awarding a life-insurance policy on the ex-husband to the ex-husband many years after the original divorce.

Insurance Policy Not Divided in Divorce

During the marriage, the parties obtained a life insurance policy on the husband with the wife named as beneficiary.  The policy was not addressed in the divorce decree in 2009.  The husband subsequently filed a bill of review, and the parties agreed to be co-owners of the policy.  They agreed the wife would receive half of the proceeds and the rest would go into a trust for their children. The court ordered the parties to split the policy into two, but the insurance company was unable to do so.

The husband then filed for declaratory judgment, seeking to be named the sole owner of the policy.  He also asked for a temporary restraining order against both the wife and the insurer. Alternatively, he sought to divide undivided property.  The wife’s counter-petition also sought a declaratory judgment that the policy was her separate property and to divide undivided assets.

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iStock-952098878-300x200When child support goes unpaid, Texas child-support cases can sometimes go on for years after the obligation would otherwise have terminated. A Texas appeals court recently considered what happens when one parent dies before the past-due child support has been paid.

The parents had a daughter together during their marriage and divorced in 1976.  The father failed to pay child support as ordered at times.  The trial court found him in contempt in 1987 and ordered him to pay $200 per month in support with additional amounts for a specified time going toward the arrearages.

Adult Daughter Files Child-Support Suit After Mother’s Death

In 2010, the adult daughter filed a petition regarding the unpaid support after her mother’s death. She asked the court to render judgment for the past due child support and to make her the obligee for the arrearages.

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iStock-1125625723-300x200When parties to a Texas divorce reach an agreement, the agreement may place conditions on certain obligations.  A “condition precedent” is something that must occur before a party has a right to performance of an obligation by the other party. In a recent case, a mother challenged a trial court’s finding she had not met the condition precedent to receive certain payments from the father.

In the final divorce decree, the trial court approved and incorporated the parties’ Agreement Incident to Divorce (“AID”). The parties agreed the father would pay $11,500 in monthly Contract Support Payments to the mother to provide her and the two children an “alternative lifestyle.”  They would travel and live abroad so the children could learn other languages and cultures. The mother agreed to maintain this lifestyle and spend the Contract Support Payments to support it as a condition precedent to receiving the payments. The AID also included a provision that the father could send a notice if the mother failed to comply with a material term or condition. If she failed to cure the breach within 30 days, the Contract Support Payments would be abated until she complied.

Father Gros Concerned About Children’s Upbringing

The mother and children traveled within the U.S. and several countries abroad until July 2018. The father grew concerned about the children’s lack of structured education and their health and hygiene by the summer of 2018.

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“A scroll of a Divorce Decree, tied with a black ribbon on a mahogany desk, with a dead white rose buttonhole from the Wedding Day, with a black pen. Copy space..”

A Texas Mediated Settlement Agreement (“MSA”) must generally include language that it is not subject to revocation, be signed by each party, and be signed by the party’s attorney who is present at the time of execution. Tex. Fam. Code § 6.602(b). If the MSA meets these requirements, it is binding and the court must render a divorce decree adopting it. The judgment must be compliant with the agreement and must not substantively alter it. The parties may revise or repudiate the agreement before the divorce is rendered, unless the agreement is otherwise binding under another law. Tex. Fam. Code § 7.006.

In a recent case, a former wife appealed a divorce decree, arguing the court erred in rendering judgment on a settlement after she revoked her consent.  The parties had reached an agreement at mediation and signed an MSA, but only the husband’s attorney’s signature was on the document.

Wife Revokes Consent to MSA

The wife filed a revocation of consent and an objection to the entry of a final divorce decree. She argued the agreement was not valid without her counsel’s signature and was therefore revocable.

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iStock-1270267953-300x200When a party in a Texas civil lawsuit dies, the case may proceed if the cause of action survives the death of the party. Tex.R.Civ.P. 150. Generally, when the defendant in Texas civil lawsuit dies, the plaintiff may petition for a “scire facias” to require the administrator, executor, or heir to defend the lawsuit.  Tex. R. Civ. P. 152. Pursuant to case law, however, Texas divorce cases are not subject to this rule because they are personal actions that do not survive the death of a party if judgment has not yet been rendered.  Generally, heirs do not take over a divorce case prior to final judgment.  Instead the divorce case abates when a party dies.  This means the court will dismiss the case.

Husband Dies During Divorce Suit

A wife recently challenged a trial court’s determination that her divorce petition abated upon her husband’s death.  The parties had married for about seven years when they divorced in 2000.  In 2018, they got married again.  The parties did not have any children together, but the husband had children from a previous marriage.  The wife petitioned for divorce in May of 2020. The husband filed an answer, but passed away the following January.  The wife sought to have the husband’s children defend the divorce on the husband’s behalf as his heirs.

The trial court found it did not have subject-matter jurisdiction to proceed, because a divorce petition, as a personal action, abates upon the death of either party. A judgment rendered by a court without subject-matter jurisdiction is void.

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judge-and-gavel-in-courtroom-171096040-583b48533df78c6f6af9f0e3-300x225A fit parent generally has the right to determine who has access to the child.  In some cases, however, people other than the parents may seek visitation or even custody of the child.  When someone other than a parent seeks rights in a Texas case, they must meet certain conditions.  In a recent case, a mother challenged a court’s orders granting possession and access to the child’s paternal grandmother.

According to the appeals court’s opinion, the trial court appointed the parents joint managing conservators and gave the father the exclusive right to determine the child’s primary residence.  The teenage parents and child lived with the paternal grandmother for about two years. Several months after the father went to prison, the mother and child moved out.

Mother Files Suit; Grandmother Intervenes

The mother petitioned for modification, seeking sole managing conservatorship.  The grandmother filed a petition in intervention, asking to be named joint managing conservator with the right to determine the child’s primary residence or possession and access in the alternative.

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iStock-483611874-300x200A modification of Texas child support requires the parent seeking the modification to show there has been a material and substantial change in circumstances since the current order was rendered. Tex. Fam. Code § 156.401. A change in income may be a material and substantial change.  A court’s primary consideration should be the child’s best interest.

A father recently appealed the denial of his petition for modification of child support.

The parties divorced in 2018.  The father agreed to pay $2,000 in monthly child support, to provide health insurance,  to make monthly payments for a credit card balance that had been used for his business, and to pay the mother $50,000 in $1,500 monthly payments for her community interest in the business.

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iStock-1139699594-300x200When a couple has complex and high-value assets, the actions required to achieve the property division may drag out long after their Texas divorce.  The parties may need to refinance or liquidate certain assets.  These ongoing transactions can result in additional disputes and possibly enforcement actions by one or sometimes both parties.

A husband recently challenged a court’s order in favor of the wife in dualling enforcement motions.  The trial court entered an Agreed Final Decree of Divorce in March 2019.  The decree awarded the wife a business, but required her to pay the husband a $770,000 equalization judgment secured by her primary residence and rental properties.  She was also ordered to make monthly payments with 3% interest starting in February 2019.  She defaulted in 2020, triggering an acceleration clause.

The decree also addressed the parties’ 2017 tax return and liability. The wife would pay $60,000 of the approximate $199,000 liability and any penalties and interest “arising solely out of the failure to previously make the $60,000 payment to the Internal Revenue Service.” The parties would split the remaining tax liability, penalties, and interest equally.  The wife consented to filing the tax return in June of 2019, but the husband asked to review certain documents before he consented.  There was evidence he received the documents in the summer of 2020 and notified the wife and accountant he had identified additional medical expenses within a week of receipt.  He ultimately gave his consent to file the day before the enforcement hearing.

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iStock-1187184203-300x200Retirement benefits are often subject to property division in a Texas divorce.  In some cases, calculating the community interest is straight forward; however, in other cases, it can be somewhat more complex.  In a recent case, a former wife challenged a trial court’s handling of the former husband’s retirement benefits after it concluded she had already received all of the benefits to which she was entitled.

The parties had been married 22 years when they divorced.  The wife was awarded 50% of the husband’s Civil Service Retirement Benefits accrued as of the date of the decree’s entry.  The trial court signed a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (“QDRO”) authorizing payment of an interest in the husband’s monthly annuity payments to the wife and stating that she was entitled to a survivor annuity.

Trial Court Enters Original QDRO

The parties began receiving the monthly annuity payments pursuant to the QDRO after the husband retired at the end of 2011.  In March 2016, the husband moved to vacate the QDRO, arguing the wife was not entitled to a survivor’s benefit under the decree but a premium was being deducted from his monthly benefit.  He asked the court to amend the QDRO to match the property division in the divorce decree.

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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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