Articles Posted in Property Rights

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A Texas Mediated Settlement Agreement (“MSA”) that meets the statutory formalities is binding and the parties are entitled to a judgment upon it (i.e., the divorce decree must adopt it).  In a recent case, a husband challenged an order issued after the divorce decree that was intended to conform the decree with the terms of the MSA.

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parties executed an MSA. A couple of weeks after the court entered the final divorce decree, the wife moved for clarification of the MSA.  She alleged the final decree did not reflect the MSA, because it failed to confirm certain items as her separate property.  The trial court entered an order confirming those items as her separate property after a hearing.

The husband appealed.

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iStock-654702696For many Texans, their 401(k) plan is one of their largest assets – particularly for those who have made regular contributions throughout their career. On top of that, 401(k) plans often hold symbolic significance above and beyond their sheer dollar value. To some, they represent safety, security, and an end to the monotonous rat race. For others, they are a prize, a badge of honor earned after countless late nights at the office. However, no matter the role they play in your life, the thought of losing half of your hard-earned nest egg can be terrifying. This begs the question: how much of your 401(k) is actually at stake in a Texas divorce? Continue Reading ›

iStock-1215119911A Texas premarital agreement can help protect each party’s assets in the event a marriage ends in divorce. Premarital agreements may also include other provisions, including a requirement to submit certain issues to binding arbitration instead of for determination before a judge or jury. In a recent case, a husband attempted to vacate an arbitrator’s decision, arguing he had exceeded his authority.

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iStock-178756342When 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.

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What is a Mediated Settlement Agreement?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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In Texas divorce cases, property is presumed to be community property if either spouse possesses it during the marriage or at the time of the divorce.  Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 3.003.  To rebut the presumption, a spouse must trace the property and clearly identify it as separate by clear and convincing evidence.  How a property is characterized is generally determined based on the character it has at inception, or when the party’s title has vested.

In a recent case, a husband challenged the trial court’s characterization of property received as a gift from the wife’s parents.  When he petitioned for divorce, the husband requested a disproportionate share of the marital estate, due in part to “fault in the breakup…”  He also asked for reimbursement to his separate estate for funds he had expended for the community estate’s benefit.

He testified that the property where the couple lived had been gifted to them by the wife’s parents.  The “Gift Certification” signed by the wife’s parents stated they “intend to give to [husband and wife] a gift . . .” of the lot.  It also listed the relationship as “son in law to be and daughter.” Both the husband and wife signed in acknowledgement of receiving the gift.

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As a result of his illustrious career, Dr. Dre’s net worth currently sits at a whopping $820 million – but maybe not for long. After 24 years, Dr. Dre’s wife, Nicole Young, is filing for divorce from the producer, rapper, and hip-hop icon. Reports indicate that the couple did not execute a premarital agreement prior to their 1996 marriage, which opens up Dr. Dre to significant financial exposure. In the absence of a premarital agreement, California – a community property state much like Texas – provides that property accumulated during marriage is owned by the community estate. Put simply, all of Dr. Dre’s income during the marriage, from his royalties as a solo rapper to his profits from Beats by Dre, is up for grabs. This means that Dr. Dre could see his hard-earned fortune be split in half right before his eyes in the coming months. Continue Reading ›

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