Articles Posted in Evidence

judge-and-gavel-in-courtroom-171096040-583b48533df78c6f6af9f0e3-300x225While videoconferencing technology allowed certain court proceedings to occur and cases to move forward during the pandemic when in-person proceedings were not available, the technology is not without its problems in a court setting.  Some individuals, especially those living in rural areas, may not have access to a strong internet connection. Others may not have appropriate devices or know how to use the technology.  Another serious issue can be control of the courtroom, including technical issues, distractions, and disruptions by parties or non-parties. In a recent case, a wife challenged a divorce decree because judgment was rendered after the trial was stopped during the presentation of her case.

Divorce Trial Held Over Zoom – and Stopped Abruptly

The divorce case was held over Zoom without a jury.  The wife was the first witness, and the husband kept interrupting, often accusing the wife of lying.  The trial judge was unable to stop him and ultimately stopped the trial before the wife had finished presenting her case.  The trial judge stated she would grant the divorce and divide the property.

The final divorce decree was signed on January 29, 2021.  The decree granted the divorce and the wife’s name change. It also divided the assets and liabilities.  The wife moved for a new trial, arguing the trial had been stopped early.  The husband died less than two months after the decree was signed.  The wife subsequently appealed.

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iStock-848796670-300x200In some Texas custody cases, parents may agree to a support order that differs from the child-support guidelines. A Texas appeals court recently considered what evidence was necessary to support a modification when the father’s income had increased significantly since the agreed order.

The trial court issued an agreed order in 2013 following a mediated settlement agreement between the parties.  The parties agreed the father’s child support would be $1,000 per month, because he would pay all of the travel costs when the mother moved to Virginia (which she did shortly after the agreement).

In 2017, the mother sought an increase in child support by filing a modification suit. Since the original agreed order, the father’s income had increased dramatically. The trial court ordered an increased monthly payment, but the appeals court reversed the order and remanded for a new trial, finding insufficient evidence supporting the amount ordered.

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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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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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divorce-property-fraudIn some cases, a party to a Texas divorce may agree to a settlement that seemingly has less-than-favorable terms.  For example, a party may agree to their spouse receiving property with a higher monetary value to ensure they receive property that has personal value to them. In a recent case, a husband alleged the wife committed “fraud by nondisclosure” by entering into a Mediated Settlement Agreement (“MSA”) without disclosing that the FBI had possession of certain items that were to be awarded to him under that MSA.

Husband is Awarded Certain Items He Believes are in Wife’s Possession

The parties agreed to the MSA, which gave the wife the personal property in her possession with certain exceptions, including a laptop and cell phone.  These items were explicitly given to the husband in the MSA. When the husband learned that the wife did not actually have possession of these items, he moved to set aside the MSA. The husband testified that the wife having those items was “a key factor” in his agreement to the MSA and the wife receiving so much joint property and custody of their child. He said the contents on those devices could have a negative effect on his military career. He had initially believed they were in the wife’s possession, because he had left them at the home and she had pictures and videos from the devices.  He had previously petitioned for those items to be returned to him, and the wife had subsequently asked to keep all of the possessions in the marital home.

Husband Moves to Set Aside MSA – But is Denied

After he signed the MSA, the husband learned the FBI had both devices. He moved to set aside the MSA in May, arguing the wife committed fraud when she failed to disclose that she did not have the devices. The trial court denied the motion, and the husband appealed.

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5thingsdivorcecourt_headerA court should consider a number of factors in deciding a Texas custody case.  Even when the court determines the parents should be joint managing conservators, the court does not have to award equal periods of possession and access to the child to each parent. Tex. Fam. Code § 153.135.  Under Texas law, there is a rebuttable presumption that the standard possession order serves the child’s best interests.  Tex. Fam. Code § 153.252.  A father recently challenged the divorce decree giving the mother the right to designate the child’s primary residence and awarding him the standard possession order.

Trial Court Initially Awards Father Primary Custody

According to the appeals court’s opinion, the parties’ child was born about three months after they married in 2014.  The parties separated in 2016 and the mother petitioned for divorce in March 2017. The court signed temporary order giving the father the exclusive right to designate the child’s primary residence in Travis County.

At the custody hearing, there was evidence the mother had sustained a serious brain injury the previous year.  There was significant testimony about her mental health before and after the separation and about how her injury affected her ability to take care of the child.

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iStock-483613578In a Texas divorce, a jury may decide issues regarding the characterization and valuation of property, but the judge is responsible for actually dividing the community property in a just and right manner.  The court may consider a number of factors, including fault, education, ages and physical conditions, financial conditions, and the amount of separate property.  Generally, the court must hold an evidentiary hearing or trial, unless the parties agree on the property division.

Wife Argues Trial Court Did Not Hear Property Issues

In a recent case, a wife appealed a property division, arguing the court failed to hold a hearing on the property division.

The parties married in 2003 and the husband filed for divorce in 2017. The jury did not hear the property division issues, which were reserved for the trial court.  The court stated that it would try those issues during the jury deliberations if there was time or would otherwise schedule a date after the verdict on the issues related to the children.

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iStock-1252096710A parent’s behavior may affect their rights to access and possession of their child in a Texas custody case.  In a recent case, the trial court’s order provided that the schedule would change if the child had a certain number of unexcused absences or instances of tardiness while in the mother’s care.

According to the appeals court’s opinion, the trial court entered a custom possession order (CPO) as part of a modification order at the end of January 2020.  Pursuant to the CPO, the father had the right to possession of the child from Wednesday morning to Friday morning each week and from Friday morning to Monday morning every other weekend, and the parents alternated holidays and school breaks.  The CPO also provided that the mother’s possession schedule would change to the Standard Possession Schedule if the child had a total of any combination of five unexcused absences and “tardies” from school, as determined by the school, while in the mother’s possession.

Father Moves to Impose Standard Possession Order

The father moved to confirm and clarify the order and requested an injunction in April 2020.  He alleged the child had been tardy five days and absent two days during the fall semester of 2019.  He asked the court to confirm and clarify that the standard possession schedule was in effect and to grant an injunction.

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imagesIn a Texas divorce case, property acquired during the marriage is presumed to be community property. A spouse claiming property is their separate property must show that it is separate by clear and convincing evidence.  Separate property is generally property that is owned before the marriage, property that the spouse acquired as a gift or inheritance, or property recovered as damages in a personal injury case.  Community property is generally property acquired after the marriage that is not characterized as separate property.

In a recent case, a wife challenged the court’s characterization of certain property as the husband’s separate property.  The wife filed for divorce. The parties agreed they had married in India in 1976, but disagreed on the date they stopped living together as husband and wife.

Husband and Wife Enter into Settlement – But Leave One Issue for Trial

The case went to trial, but, before trial, the parties entered into a Mediated Settlement Agreement (“MSA”).  In the MSA, the parties agreed their community property located in India would be divided by Indian courts.  The parties agreed to the characterization and division of everything except two pieces of land in India, referred to as the “Fifteen-Cent” property and the “One-and-a-half-Acres” property. The MSA stated they would “defer to characterization and confirmation of separate property” of those two parcels to the trial court.

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iStock-1139699594When a court considers Texas child custody and visitation, the child’s best interest is the primary concern.  The court considers certain factors, including what the child wants, the child’s current and future needs, any danger to the child, the parents’ respective abilities, programs available, the parents’ plans for the child, stability, any acts or omissions indicating the relationship between the parent and child is not proper, and any excuse for those acts or omissions.

A father recently appealed a denial of his petition for modification and grant of the mother’s counterpetition.  At the time of the divorce, the trial court ordered the parties not to move from a specific area without a modification order or written agreement filed with the court.  Neither parent was given the exclusive right to designate the child’s primary residence.  Nonetheless, both parents moved outside of the geographical boundary after the divorce.

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