retireRetirement benefits can be a complex and contentious issue in a Texas divorce case.  Generally, any income earned during marriage is considered community property unless proven to be separate property, including funds contributed to a retirement account or earned as pension benefits.  In a recent case, a husband challenged a court’s order awarding a portion of his military retirement benefits to his ex-wife.

According to the appeals court’s opinion, the wife petitioned for enforcement of property division by contempt, alleging the husband had not paid her the retirement benefits awarded to her in their divorce decree.  The husband argued the military benefits had either been awarded to him or had not been divided at the time of the divorce.

The wife filed an amended motion to clarify, asking the court to enter a clarifying order if it found any part of the previous order was not specific enough for enforcement through contempt.  She specifically asked the court to clarify the order to reflect the length of the marriage and the husband’s dates of military service.  She also asked the court to sign a Military Qualified Domestic Relations Order.

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Premarital agreement

Some Texas premarital agreements may include a binding arbitration clause. A party may compel arbitration when the claims at issue are within the scope of a valid and enforceable agreement to arbitrate.  If the claim falls within the agreement’s scope and there is no defense to enforcing it, the court must compel arbitration. Fraud may be a defense against compelled arbitration, but the party must show that the fraud was specifically related to the arbitration provision.

A husband recently appealed a denial of his motion for arbitration in his divorce proceeding.  The parties signed a premarital agreement that included an arbitration clause. The wife filed a petition for divorce in July 2014.  In 2016, she filed an amended petition.  Neither petition mentioned the premarital agreement.  The husband filed an answer in 2016, but did not mention the premarital agreement either.

In a second amended petition, the wife stated there was a premarital agreement and requested it be set aside and vacated.  She alleged she entered into it involuntarily and that it was unconscionable.

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iStock-902725964-scaledIn Texas custody cases, it can be very difficult for a non-parent to obtain custody or visitation of a child over the objection of a parent.  In some circumstances, however, a non-parent (such as a grandparent) has the right to file suit seeking custody or visitation.  One such circumstance is when the person has recently had care, custody, and control of the child for at least six months.

In a recent case, a grandmother sought custody of her son’s child after her son’s death.  According to the appeals court’s opinion, the child was born in 2014.  From 2014 to 2020, the child and parents lived in various places, including the paternal grandmother’s home in Wilson County.  From 2017 to 2019, the child went to daycare in Wilson County.  From August 2019 to January 22, 2020, the parents and child lived with the paternal grandmother.

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In some Texas divorce cases, a party fails to file an answer to the divorce petition or otherwise participate in the divorce proceedings in any way.  When a court divides property in a Texas divorce, it must do so in a “just and right” manner. TEX. FAM. CODE ANN. § 7.001.  However, to do so, the court must have sufficient evidence of the value of the community estate, even if one of the parties does not participate in the proceedings.  Even if their spouse fails to file an answer, the petitioner in a divorce case must present evidence supporting the material allegations in the petition.  If a trial court divides the property without sufficient evidence of the value of the assets to make a just and right division, the division may be subject to reversal on appeal, even if the appealing spouse failed to respond and the court issued a default judgment.

In a recent case, a husband challenged a default judgment granting his wife a divorce and dividing their property, arguing there was insufficient evidence to support the property division.

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In Texas custody cases, a court may only issue an order denying possession of a child or imposing restrictions or limitations on a parent’s right to possession to the extent necessary to protect the child’s best interest.  Tex. Fam. Code § 153.193. Thus, a court may only order that a parent’s visitation with a child be supervised if doing so is in the child’s best interest.

A father recently challenged a court’s denial of his request for supervised visitation and drug testing of the mother.

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iStock-1147846829Sometimes parents disagree about whose surname a child should have.  Texas family law allows a court to order a name change for a child if the change is in the child’s best interest.  Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 45.004.  Additionally, when a court adjudicates parentage, it may order a name change if a parent requests it and “for good cause shown.”  Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 160.636.  Some appeals courts have held that those are two distinct tests, while others have held that the child’s best interest is necessarily good cause and simply determine if the change would be in the child’s best interest even when the name change is requested pursuant to § 160.636.

A mother recently appealed a court order changing her son’s surname to that of his father.

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iStock-839381426Texas family law includes a presumption that parents should be appointed joint managing conservators.  The law does not require, however, that the parents be given equal possession just because they are joint managing conservators.  Tex. Fam. Code § 153.135.  There is a rebuttable presumption that the standard possession order is in the child’s best interest, but that presumption only applies to children who are at least three years old.  For younger children, the court must consider “all relevant factors.”  The statute specifically requires the court consider who provided care before and during the proceedings, how separation from either party may affect the child, the availability and willingness of the parties to care for the child, and the child’s needs, along with other specified factors. Tex. Fam. Code § 153.254.

A father recently challenged the possession schedule and decision-making authority granted to the mother, arguing in part that the court should have awarded equal time or the standard possession schedule.

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iStock-178756342When a divorcing couple reaches a Mediated Settlement Agreement (“MSA”) that meets the statutory requirements, the parties are entitled to a judgment on that MSA. Tex. Fam. Code Ann. §§ 6.602(c).  In some cases, however, things can change after the MSA is agreed upon. In a recent case, a wife challenged the way a court addressed changes arising after the MSA was executed, but before the final decree of divorce was entered.

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Many couples attempt to reconcile after breaking up or divorcing.  Moving back in together can effect a parent’s obligation to provide child support.  If the parent who is obligated to pay child support is contributing to the support of the household, he or she may be entitled to a credit for their child-support obligation.  In a recent case, a mother challenged a court’s order giving the father a credit against back child support for the period of time when they had lived together with the children.

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A court may order one joint managing conservator to pay Texas child support to another joint managing conservator.  Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 153.138.  The child’s best interest is the primary consideration in determining child support.  There may, therefore, be occasions where a court orders the parent with primary physical custody to nonetheless pay child support to the other parent, when they are both joint managing conservators.  A mother recently challenged an order to pay child support when she had been awarded the exclusive right to determine the child’s primary residence.

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