Articles Posted in separate property

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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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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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.


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-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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With such close geographic proximity, the legal issues that arise in a Texas divorce case occasionally transcend our border with Mexico. In a recent opinion, one Texas court explored the intersection between the laws of Mexico and Texas and whether a Mexican premarital agreement is valid and enforceable in Texas. Continue Reading ›

confused dog
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.

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 ›

What happens to the engagement ring if someone calls off the wedding?

Unfortunately, before some engaged couples can make it down the aisle to say “I do”, someone says “I don’t”. The issue of who gets to keep the engagement ring often surfaces during this heartbreaking time.

An engagement ring is a gift and the law requires three elements to constitute an irrevocable gift:

In Maher v. Maher, a husband challenged the court’s final divorce decree. He argued, among other things, that the trial court had mischaracterized and misvalued certain assets of the marital estate. The wife had sought the divorce on the grounds that they had discord or personality conflicts. She asked for a division of community property, confirmation of her separate property, reimbursement, and attorneys’ fees. The husband asked for a division of community property in which he received a disproportionate share, confirmation of his separate property, reimbursement, and attorneys’ fees.

The matter went to trial. The wife testified they had a son who was over 18 years old. The couple didn’t have a close marital relationship, and the wife claimed the husband’s drinking threatened their relationship. In 1995, her parents started giving her monetary gifts, and when her mother died, she became the beneficiary of a bypass trust that her mother created.

When her father died, she received distributions from his estate too. From her parents, she’d received over $1.2 million, which she claimed was separate property. She also explained that they’d given her husband monetary gifts of about $68,000, which she said was his separate property.

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Family law judges encourage those getting a divorce to enter into settlement negotiations rather than proceed to trial. Under rule 11 of the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure, agreements reached during these negotiations are not enforceable unless they are written, signed, and filed with the divorce papers as part of the record, or the agreement is made in open court and entered as part of the record. In order to have the agreement be enforced, all material terms are supposed to be included, and they should be clear and unambiguous.

In Bush v. Bush, a Texas Court of Appeals considered the enforceability of a rule 11 agreement. The case was an appeal from a divorce decree in which the husband challenged the trial court’s award of two parcels of real property to his former wife. The wife sued for divorce in March 2013, and in response the husband filed a counter petition for divorce and moved to enforce a rule 11 agreement regarding the division of property, which his ex-wife and he had filed in a prior divorce case that was dismissed in 2006.

He subsequently moved to transfer and consolidate the current divorce proceeding with the previously dismissed case. The trial court came to the decision that the prior divorce had been dismissed by agreement of the parties and that since the parties agreed to the dismissal and signed the order, everything in the prior proceeding had been dismissed, and the prior case did not need to be reinstated into the current case. It also found that rule 11 agreements may be revoked until they are accepted by the court and incorporated in a final order, and this wasn’t done in the prior proceeding. The court also held that even if the agreement had survived, it didn’t have the specificity necessary to be enforced, although with respect to the sale of a particular piece of real property, the agreement might be enforceable through the application of contract law.

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