When 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.
Fault in Divorce
Divorces 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.
What is a Mediated Settlement Agreement?
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.
Texas, unlike many states, still recognizes common law marriage (also known as an “informal” marriage). Unlike with formal marriages, a common law spouse often has to prove that the marriage even existed before getting a divorce. A party may prove that an informal marriage exists by showing that the parties agreed to be married, then lived together as spouses in Texas, and represented themselves to others as married. TEX. FAM. CODE ANN. § 2.401(a)(2).
In a recent case, a woman challenged a determination that she and her former romantic partner had not established the existence of an informal marriage. After they broke up, the man filed for a declaratory judgment that there was no informal marriage, but the woman counter-petitioned for divorce, alleging that they were informally married. The woman argued they had an informal marriage starting in August 2014, but the man argued they had only been “boyfriend/girlfriend” or domestic partners.
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.
With such close geographic proximity, the legal issues that arise in a Texas divorce case occasionally transcend our border with Mexico. In a recent opinion, one Texas court explored the intersection between the laws of Mexico and Texas and whether a Mexican premarital agreement is valid and enforceable in Texas. Continue Reading ›
With an increasing number of couples having children in their 30s, or skipping having children altogether, pets are taking on a whole new role for many Texas couples: a temporary stand-in for children and sometimes even a permanent replacement. As a result, more Texas couples consider their pets to be members of the family now than ever before. Pets now accompany us to restaurants, sleep on memory-foam mattresses, and even have their own social-media accounts. However, when it comes to divorce, many Texas couples are understandably unsure what might happen to their “fur baby.” Will their pet be awarded to their soon-to-be ex-spouse, never to be seen by them again? Will the Court order shared possession of their pet, like it would a child? Is it possible to get court-ordered FaceTime sessions with a miniature poodle?
Pet Custody in Texas Divorce
While a few states, such as California, Alaska, and Illinois, have given legal recognition to the unique role that pets play within the family, Texas law still considers pets to be personal property in the divorce context. As a result, Texas divorce courts are unlikely to order shared possession of a pet like they would a child. In this regard, Texas divorce law creates a zero-sum game: either you are awarded the family pet or your spouse is. With this in mind, it is important to inform the Court to whom the family pet should be awarded and why.
What is a Partition or Exchange Agreement?
In Texas, spouses can enter into agreements (often referred to as “partition or exchange agreements“) during marriage, partitioning community property between themselves. A partition or exchange agreement must satisfy several requirements to be valid and enforceable, including being signed by both spouses. However, when the stakes are high, some unscrupulous spouses may trick their unknowing partner into signing the partition or exchange agreement under false pretenses or, even worse, forge their partner’s signature. Recently, one husband did both.
Ninth District of Texas Court of Appeals
Unfortunately, former spouses do not always comply with all of their obligations under a Texas divorce decree. When that happens, the other party may need to take action to enforce those obligations. A father recently challenged a court order charging his interest in certain business organizations with judgments the mother obtained following the divorce.
After the mother was unable to collect on two judgments against the father related to his obligations under the divorce decree, she filed an Application for Charging Order. She alleged the he had “a position of authority” in five business entities. She alleged he received distributions from one or more of the entities, through funds disbursed to him and funds paid by the entities for his personal living expenses.
In his response, the father acknowledged holding an ownership interest in one of the organizations, but denied having an interest in any of the other named organizations.
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.