Articles Posted in Abuse

iStock-848796670The trial court must divide property in a just and right manner in a Texas divorce.  The division must be equitable, and should not be punitive against either spouse.  A husband recently challenged a property division, arguing it had been punitive against him.

The wife filed for divorce after the parties had been married for over 30 years.  She alleged the husband had engaged in cruel treatment and had committed fraud on the community estate.

Wife’s Trial Testimony Highlighted Abusive Marriage

The wife said the husband often disparaged her appearance, individual worth, and profession in front of others and in private. According to appeals court’s opinion, the husband earned significantly more money than the wife and controlled the couple’s finances.  The wife said the husband used his control of the couple’s finances punitively and, for example, would not give her money to go to Poland to visit her family when they were sick and would not pay for a surgery she needed. She also testified that he said her mother had died of a stroke because she was a bad daughter and a bad person. Other witnesses, including the couple’s daughter, corroborated the wife’s allegations of verbal abuse. The husband, however, denied it and claimed they were all liars.

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iStock-1163040189A Texas custody order may only be modified in certain circumstances.  The parents may agree to change the order.  The court may order modification if the child is at least twelve years old and wants to change which parent has primary custody. Otherwise, the parent seeking the modification must generally show that there has been a material and substantial change in the circumstances of the child or a parent since the current order was rendered.  The court must consider the facts and circumstances of the specific case to determine if there has been a material and substantial change in circumstances.  Common situations that may lead to a material and substantial change in circumstances include marriage, a change in employment, or relocation of a parent’s primary residence.  Courts have also recognized changes related to the relationship between the parent and child, including abuse, mistreatment, or “poisoning the child’s mind.”  In all cases, the modification must be in the child’s best interest.

Mother and Father Agree to Custody Modification

In a recent case, a father challenged a modification sought by the mother. According to the appeals court’s opinion, the parents divorced in 2012 and entered into an agreed order to modify custody in 2016.  Pursuant to the 2016 modification, the mother was given the right to determine the children’s residence within a specified geographic restriction.  The father was awarded custody beyond the standard order.  The agreed order did not require either parent to pay child support.

After one of the children broke an arm, the mother moved to modify that order and the court entered the modification in 2018.  The new order required the father to pay child support and changed his custody schedule.  He appealed.

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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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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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What is a Mediated Settlement Agreement?

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A mediated settlement agreement (“MSA”) in a Texas divorce is binding if it meets certain requirements.  It must state that it is not subject to revocation in bold letters, capital letters or underlined text.  It must also be signed by each party and the party’s attorney, if present. Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 6.602.  Some Texas courts have held that an MSA may be unenforceable if it is obtained by fraud, duress or coercion.

A husband recently challenged an MSA, partly on the grounds that he allegedly signed it under duress.

The parties had been married since 1981.  Some of the property acquired during the marriage was held by a limited partnership in which the parties owned a 95% interest.  In August 2017, the husband was arrested after the wife reported he had threatened her with a firearm.  The wife filed for divorce the very next day.

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