Articles Posted in Divorce

iStock-1214358087-300x169Texas law presumes that property possessed by a spouse during or on dissolution of the marriage is community property.  Tex. Fam. Code § 3.003.  The presumption can only be rebutted by clear-and-convincing evidence the property is separate. In a recent case, a husband challenged the characterization and distribution of property in his divorce.

The parties got married in 2008 and separated in 2018.  The wife moved into her own apartment and filed for divorce in March 2018.

The wife submitted an inventory and appraisement, a copy of her student-loan activity, and a proposed property division.  The husband also submitted an inventory and appraisement, as well as account statements and receipts.

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iStock-654702696-300x200One asset that many Texans do not consider their spouse to have an interest in is their 401(k) or any other retirement fund that they have been slowly building during the course of their marriage. Having to divide up your retirement funds may throw a wrench into one’s retirement plans, but, where possible, courts often award retirement accounts to the spouse in whose name they are held. Provided the somewhat-ambiguous “just and right” standard is met, Texas divorce courts have wide discretion to divide up individual assets as they see fit. This may involve splitting each asset, such as 401(k), and dividing the funds therein between the spouses. However, more commonly, courts attempt to award whole assets to either party to avoid an overly complicated, and perhaps unnecessary, division of property.

With this in mind, it is important to focus aspects of your case at trial on why the court should award your 401(k) to you. Factors such as your role in contributing to it, your need for future support, the value of assets in your spouse’s control, your and your spouse’s relevant incomes, which spouse is appointed primary conservator of their children (if any), and many others can be useful to craft a compelling case to keep your 401(k) plan (or any other asset).

In addition, you can sometimes increase the likelihood that you keep your 401(k) post-divorce by entering into a settlement agreement with your spouse. In Texas, spouses are free to enter into settlement agreements to resolve one or more aspects of their divorce, such as the division of their community estate. Settlement is an important process in a Texas divorce, because it can often be the best way to ensure that you retain your hard-earned nest egg and any other assets that you consider important.

imagesFailing to respond to a Texas divorce petition can result in a default judgment with an unfavorable property division.  What happens, though, if the spouse who received the default judgment fails to take action to enforce the property division for several years?  A Texas appeals court recently considered a case involving that issue.

Wife Obtains Default Judgment

The husband bought a home before he met the wife.  They refinanced it jointly twice during the marriage. The wife subsequently filed for divorce and obtained a default divorce decree in February 2011. The decree listed the home as community property and stated that the wife owned it alone as separate property and that the court divested “any interest, title, and claim the Husband may have to [it].” The court further ordered the husband to sign any deeds necessary to transfer the property to her.  There was a remaining principal of $43,399.14 according to the bank statement for the next month.

The husband testified he had not been served and only found out about the divorce case and default divorce later that year. The wife moved out about four months after the divorce. She stated the husband did not want her to live there and tried to “kick [her] out in a very aggressive way. . .” She claimed “[t]here was a lot of violence. . .”  The husband testified the wife would yell at him that the house was hers and she was going to take it from him. He then went to court to see the divorce decree and learned it awarded the house to the wife.  He said he could not afford an attorney at the time.

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Spousal maintenance (which is commonly compared to other states’ alimony) is a payment from one spouse to another to help the other spouse meet their “minimum reasonable needs” after divorce. A Texas divorce court will determine what is considered to be a spouse’s “minimum reasonable needs,” and can take many factors into consideration when making this determination. (Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 8.001) Thus, whether a spouse is entitled to spousal maintenance is decided on a case-by-case basis.

A spouse who is seeking spousal maintenance must first demonstrate one of the following to be considered for maintenance (Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 8.051.):

  • The marriage lasted 10 or more years;

iStock-1287431987A family business can complicate the property division in a Texas divorce. A recent case considered whether a husband could compel arbitration to enforce a buyout provision in a company agreement during the divorce proceeding.

The parties formed a limited-liability company together during the marriage, with each owning a 50% membership interest.  The husband subsequently petitioned for divorce and the wife filed a counterpetition. Both attached the standing order required by the Travis County District Clerk to protect the parties and preserve their property while the case is pending.  The standing order applies to all divorce suits filed in Travis County (and many other counties have similar standing orders, such as Dallas, Collin, Denton, Rockwall, and Tarrant Counties) and prohibits parties from taking certain actions that would harm or reduce the value of the property and from selling or otherwise alienating property belonging to either party.

Wife Seeks to Compel Arbitration on Business Disputes

The husband sought injunctive relief and temporary orders to address disputes relating to operation of the business.  The wife asked for those disputes to be resolved according to the company agreement, which required any court proceeding brought by one owner against the other be submitted to mediation first and then to binding arbitration if not resolved. The parties were required to go to mediation and arbitration and the arbitrator entered an award regarding management and control of the business.  The wife moved to enforce the arbitration award and the court entered temporary orders in accordance with that award.

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Sometimes, people served with divorce papers do not respond.  They may be unsure what to do or they may not want to face the realities of divorce.  Failing to respond will not prevent the divorce, however. If a respondent fails to file an answer to a Texas divorce petition, the court may still grant the divorce through a default judgment.  Although the petitioner must submit evidence supporting their material allegations and the property division must still be just and right, the divorce may be granted on terms that are unfavorable to the respondent.

A husband recently appealed a default judgment that granted a divorce on the ground of adultery. The parties married in 2008 and had two children together. They entered into a post-marital agreement in 2018.  Under that agreement, if the wife filed for divorce because of the husband’s adultery, she would get conservatorship of the children without a geographical restriction, spousal maintenance, and certain property in which the husband held a separate property interest. The wife petitioned for divorce the next year and alleged adultery.  The husband did not file an answer.

Default Judgment is Entered

The wife submitted an affidavit to prove up the divorce that incorporated the post-marital agreement by reference.  She asked the court to approve the post-marital agreement as the agreement of the parties. The trial court granted the divorce on the ground of adultery. The husband appealed.

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iStock-483613578A trial court that has divided property in a Texas divorce must provide written findings of fact and conclusions of law, including how it characterized and valued the assets and liabilities, if a party properly requests them. In a recent case, a husband challenged the court’s refusal to specify the valuation it used for the parties’ assets when there was no request for findings of fact and conclusions of law.

Wife Seeks Fault-Based Divorce

When the wife filed for divorce, she asked for a disproportionate share of the community estate.  She claimed the husband was at fault in the break-up of the marriage.

The wife submitted a spreadsheet of the assets she requested showing both her and the husband’s valuation of each.  She valued the assets she requested at $2,084,714, and the husband valued them at $2,585,450. She also presented a spreadsheet of the assets she proposed be awarded to the husband, with her valuation totaling $2,662,329 and the husband’s totaling $2,612,102.

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iStock-543681178Many assets divided in a Texas divorce are distributed during or soon after the divorce, but some assets, such as retirement benefits, may not be distributed for many years. Issues involving retirement benefits may continue or arise several years after the divorce is final. A Texas appeals court recently decided a dispute involving retirement benefits between parties who divorced in 2008.

Both parties were in the military when they divorced.  The stipulated final divorce decree divided the husband’s retirement benefits equally between them and awarded the wife 100% of her “retirement plan” or other benefits resulting from her employment.

Husband Argues He Agreed to Divorce Decree While Under Duress

The wife petitioned for a clarification of the division of the husband’s military retirement in 2017. The husband argued he agreed to the property division under duress because the wife had threatened to tell his superiors he was having an affair if he did not agree. He claimed he only agreed because he was concerned he would face a court martial or negative effects on his chances of promotion if she reported him.

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iStock-1175949984A trial court generally has broad discretion in deciding whether to impose a geographic restriction on the child’s primary residence in a Texas custody case.  A geographic restriction limits where the children’s primary residence may be.  As with other aspects of a custody case, the primary consideration is whether the restriction is in the best interest of the child. A geographic restriction can help ensure the child maintains relationships with the non-custodial parent, extended family, and the community.  In some cases, however, a parent may have good reasons to want to move with the child. The Texas Supreme Court has identified a number of factors in determining whether a move is in a child’s best interest: how it would affect relationships with extended family, how it would affect the non-custodial parent’s visitation and communication with the child, whether a meaningful relationship between the child and non-custodial parent could be maintained with a visitation schedule, the child’s current contact with both parents, the reasons for and against the move, the child’s age, the child’s ties to the community, and the child’s health and educational needs. Lenz v. Lenz.

A father recently appealed an order granting the mother the exclusive right to designate the primary residence without a geographic restriction when the mother intended to move out-of-state with the children.

Mother Offered Opportunity in Arizona

The trial court made several findings of fact. The trial court found the parents moved to Austin so the mother could attend graduate school and intended to stay there until she received her PhD. They had agreed to live there temporarily until the mother got a faculty position at a university.  She earned her PhD in 2012.  The parties’ twin children were born prematurely in 2013, and the mother took time to care for them instead of advancing her career.  During the marriage, she only applied for positions in cities where the father would also have potential job opportunities.  They agreed she should apply for a position in Arizona in 2018, but the job was not filled at that time. The parties separated in February 2019 and the mother continued to be primary caregiver.

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iStock-654702696A court dividing property in a Texas divorce must do so in a “just and right” manner.  The division does not have to be equal if the court has a reasonable basis to order a disproportionate division of the community estate. Texas courts have recognized a number of non-exclusive factors a court may consider, including differences in the parties’ earning capacities or incomes, difference in their ages, their relative financial circumstances, and the value of their separate estates.

A former husband recently challenged a property division, arguing the court had intended to achieve an equal distribution, but did not do so.

Comparative Circumstances of the Parties

The parties married in 1986 and the husband petitioned for divorce in 2019. The husband testified he was 57 years old and the wife was 56. Both parties were engineers.  He testified they earned about the same amount each year and both were healthy.  The both had substantial retirement benefits.

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