A trial court in a Texas divorce retains subject matter jurisdiction to enforce a decree or to clarify ambiguity in the decree. Texas strongly favors finality of judgment, so the court may not make substantive changes to the property division in a divorce decree once it has become final. The court does not have the authority to “amend, modify, alter, or change” the final property division despite errors in characterizing the property or applying the law. The court may, however, issue orders to clarify an ambiguous decree or to enforce the decree. A court interprets a Texas divorce decree according to the plain language of the decree. The court must interpret the decree as a whole and give effect to all provisions. A former wife recently challenged a court order purporting to clarify the final divorce decree, arguing it substantively changed the property division.
Divorce Decree and Subsequent Order
The trial court filed with the clerk and sent the parties a letter rendering the property division following the bench trial. The letter awarded to the wife as separate property 50% of three specified accounts and 50% of any stocks, options, or retirement accounts that were not listed in the letter but had vested as of a specified date. The court directed the husband’s counsel to draft a decree comporting with the letter rendition.
The husband’s attorney added details that were not expressly included in the letter. He specified the date when the balances would be calculated for the property division and included a dollar amount for each account. The parties’ attorneys approved the draft divorce decree as to form. The trial court signed the decree as drafted by the husband’s attorney. The decree became final without either party appealing.