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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BSgavelx1200-768x432-1The trial court in a Texas family law case has only a limited ability to change its judgment once its plenary power expires.  Generally, plenary power lasts for thirty days from the date the final judgment is signed, but it may be extended if the court overrules certain motions or modifies the judgment while it still has plenary power.

In a recent case, a mother challenged the court’s authority to reform the judgment.  According to the appeals court’s opinion, she had petitioned for the adjudication of the parentage of her child.  Both the mother and the alleged father sought an order adjudicating him to be the child’s father.

The parties reached a partial agreement and went to trial on the remaining issues.

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imagesIn a Texas divorce case, property acquired during the marriage is presumed to be community property. A spouse claiming property is their separate property must show that it is separate by clear and convincing evidence.  Separate property is generally property that is owned before the marriage, property that the spouse acquired as a gift or inheritance, or property recovered as damages in a personal injury case.  Community property is generally property acquired after the marriage that is not characterized as separate property.

In a recent case, a wife challenged the court’s characterization of certain property as the husband’s separate property.  The wife filed for divorce. The parties agreed they had married in India in 1976, but disagreed on the date they stopped living together as husband and wife.

Husband and Wife Enter into Settlement – But Leave One Issue for Trial

The case went to trial, but, before trial, the parties entered into a Mediated Settlement Agreement (“MSA”).  In the MSA, the parties agreed their community property located in India would be divided by Indian courts.  The parties agreed to the characterization and division of everything except two pieces of land in India, referred to as the “Fifteen-Cent” property and the “One-and-a-half-Acres” property. The MSA stated they would “defer to characterization and confirmation of separate property” of those two parcels to the trial court.

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iStock-1139699594When a court considers Texas child custody and visitation, the child’s best interest is the primary concern.  The court considers certain factors, including what the child wants, the child’s current and future needs, any danger to the child, the parents’ respective abilities, programs available, the parents’ plans for the child, stability, any acts or omissions indicating the relationship between the parent and child is not proper, and any excuse for those acts or omissions.

A father recently appealed a denial of his petition for modification and grant of the mother’s counterpetition.  At the time of the divorce, the trial court ordered the parties not to move from a specific area without a modification order or written agreement filed with the court.  Neither parent was given the exclusive right to designate the child’s primary residence.  Nonetheless, both parents moved outside of the geographical boundary after the divorce.

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iStock-545456068-scaledA court must base its decisions regarding custody and visitation primarily on the child’s best interest.  In a recent Texas case, a father challenged a court’s modification of his prior possession order, restricting him to supervised visitation with his daughter.

The mother petitioned to be named the child’s sole managing conservator and asked the court to either deny visitation with the father or, in the alternative, to require it to be supervised.  She alleged the child had reported being spanked, being physically punished by her stepmother and her step-grandmother, being forced to stand in a corner, being underfed sometimes, being subjected to verbal abuse and threats of physical violence, and being required to stay in her room watching television for hours while she was in her father’s custody.  The mother also alleged the child’s foot had been injured by her step-grandmother and not given medical attention.  She further alleged the child’s stepmother repeatedly tried to put makeup on the child when she was allergic to it.

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A Texas Mediated Settlement Agreement (“MSA”) that meets the statutory formalities is binding and the parties are entitled to a judgment upon it (i.e., the divorce decree must adopt it).  In a recent case, a husband challenged an order issued after the divorce decree that was intended to conform the decree with the terms of the MSA.

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parties executed an MSA. A couple of weeks after the court entered the final divorce decree, the wife moved for clarification of the MSA.  She alleged the final decree did not reflect the MSA, because it failed to confirm certain items as her separate property.  The trial court entered an order confirming those items as her separate property after a hearing.

The husband appealed.

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iStock-483611874If a parent in a Texas child-support case is intentionally unemployed or underemployed resulting in an income significantly less than what they could earn, the court may calculate child support based on their earning potential. Tex. Fam. Code § 154.066(a).  The other parent has the burden of showing that the parent is intentionally unemployed or underemployed.

A father recently challenged a trial court’s finding that he was intentionally unemployed or underemployed and the child-support obligation based upon that finding.

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iStock-1215119911A Texas premarital agreement can help protect each party’s assets in the event a marriage ends in divorce. Premarital agreements may also include other provisions, including a requirement to submit certain issues to binding arbitration instead of for determination before a judge or jury. In a recent case, a husband attempted to vacate an arbitrator’s decision, arguing he had exceeded his authority.

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iStock-1175949984Courts often keep siblings together; however, in some Texas child custody cases, it is in the children’s best interest for them to be split up. When one or more children live with one parent and one or more children live with the other parent, each parent may be obligated to pay child support to the other.  A father recently challenged how the court calculated the child support the mother would have to pay him after he received custody of one of their four children. In issuing its ruling, the appellate court’s opinion turned on the definition of “multiple households” under the Texas Family Code.

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Fault in Divorce

iStock-1163040189Divorces may be granted without fault, but Texas still allows divorce to be granted on fault-based grounds in certain situations.  For example, a Texas divorce may be granted in one spouse’s favor if the other committed “cruel treatment” that makes the parties continuing to live together “insupportable.” Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 6.002.  Physical abuse can constitute cruel treatment, but physical abuse is not required for a Texas divorce court to find cruel treatment.  When the court finds fault-based grounds for divorce, such as cruel treatment, the court may consider the fault in dividing the property. Specifically, the court can award a disproportionate share of the community estate to the spouse who is not at fault. A husband recently challenged such a disproportionate property division in his divorce.

The wife said the husband stopped paying attention to her after his business partnership went sour.  She also said he had called her names and accused her of cheating, in addition to being violent against her around four or five times.

The wife alleged that, during one incident, the husband had closed a door on her arm after he had filed for divorce.  She called the police, and the husband agreed to leave.  The husband, however, claimed that he had simply closed the door after the wife left the room, but she forced it back open.  He claimed the door hit him, then whipped back toward her and hit her elbow.  He said he agreed to leave for a few hours after the police arrived, but ultimately decided to leave permanently so their child would not see them argue.

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