Articles Posted in Property Rights

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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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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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-1215119911A trial court must divide community property in a “just and right” manner in a Texas divorce.  The court must properly characterize the property before it in order to achieve a just and right division. Characterization can be complex when the parties have significant assets acquired through various means.  It can get even more complicated when the parties have ownership interests in business entities that also own property.

A husband recently appealed the property division in his divorce decree, arguing the court had improperly awarded him property owned by business entities as his separate property. The parties got married in 1993.  They lived in Connecticut, but the wife moved to Texas in 2018 for a job.  The husband remained in Connecticut where his construction businesses were located. He told the wife, however, that he would move to Texas in a year to a year and a half, but ultimately did not do so.

Wife Files for Divorce

The wife petitioned for divorce in 2019.  The husband’s father and his company filed suit against three of the husband’s businesses a few days before the divorce trial. The lawsuit alleged the husband’s companies owed his father’s company $770,644 for equipment rental.

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iStock-543681178Under federal law, a court may not treat military disability benefits as community property for purposes of property distribution in a Texas divorce case. A husband recently challenged the property distribution in his divorce decree, arguing the court had improperly divided a portion of his military disability benefits.

Trial Court Divides Husband’s Military Retirement Benefits

The wife petitioned for divorce and sought a majority of the community assets.  The court granted the divorce on grounds of insupportability and adultery.  The decree gave the wife 55% of the husband’s disposable military retired pay, attorney’s fees, and conditional appellate attorney’s fees. The husband appealed.

The husband contended the 55% of his disposable military retired pay awarded to the wife erroneously included disability payments. The wife, however, argued the award did not include disability benefits and the decree had specifically awarded him his “VA Disability and Social Security Disability benefits” as separate property.

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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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does-adultery-affect-alimony-in-idaho-1080x600-1In a Texas divorce, the court must divide the property in a just and right manner.  The requirement is that the division be equitable, but not necessarily equal. The Texas Supreme Court identified several factors courts should consider in Murff v. Murff. These factors include the parties’ physical conditions, education, financial condition, abilities, and ages.   A husband recently challenged a trial court’s division of the marital property following a mediated settlement agreement between the parties.

The parties married in 1999 and the wife initiated divorce proceedings in 2017.  Pursuant to a temporary order, the marital home was sold and about $500,000 in sales proceeds were put into an escrow account.  The court signed an agreed order allowing disbursement of an equal portion of the proceeds to pay each party’s divorce attorneys.  The rest of the proceeds was left in the escrow account.

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When a spouse petitions for a Texas divorce, the other spouse must file an answer.  If the other spouse fails to do so, the court may render a default judgment.  Under certain circumstances, however, the other spouse may get the default judgment overturned.  In a recent case, a husband sought to overturn a default judgment entered against him.

According to the Texas Supreme Court’s opinion, the wife filed for divorce.  The trial court granted her motion for alternative service at the home of her husband’s mother.  The trial court ultimately entered a no-answer default judgment the following January.

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