Cruel Treatment During Marriage Results in Disproportionate Division of Property

Fault in Divorce

iStock-1163040189Divorces may be granted without fault, but Texas still allows divorce to be granted on fault-based grounds in certain situations.  For example, a Texas divorce may be granted in one spouse’s favor if the other committed “cruel treatment” that makes the parties continuing to live together “insupportable.” Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 6.002.  Physical abuse can constitute cruel treatment, but physical abuse is not required for a Texas divorce court to find cruel treatment.  When the court finds fault-based grounds for divorce, such as cruel treatment, the court may consider the fault in dividing the property. Specifically, the court can award a disproportionate share of the community estate to the spouse who is not at fault. A husband recently challenged such a disproportionate property division in his divorce.

The wife said the husband stopped paying attention to her after his business partnership went sour.  She also said he had called her names and accused her of cheating, in addition to being violent against her around four or five times.

The wife alleged that, during one incident, the husband had closed a door on her arm after he had filed for divorce.  She called the police, and the husband agreed to leave.  The husband, however, claimed that he had simply closed the door after the wife left the room, but she forced it back open.  He claimed the door hit him, then whipped back toward her and hit her elbow.  He said he agreed to leave for a few hours after the police arrived, but ultimately decided to leave permanently so their child would not see them argue.

Divorce Property Division Appeal

The appeals court considered the evidence in the light most favorable to the trial court’s findings.  The appeals court noted the wife had testified about the husband’s emotional withdrawal.  The appeals court found that the trial court could have considered the husband’s behavior as verbally abusive.  The wife also said the husband was physically abusive on a few occasions.

The appeals court noted that the trial court did not have to believe the husband’s explanation of the incident involving the door.  Additionally, the trial court could consider incidents that occurred after the divorce petition.

The appeals court found there was sufficient evidence to support the trial court’s finding of cruel treatment.

The husband also argued the trial court erred in awarding the wife a disproportionate share in the property division.  The appeals court noted that the trial court had found that, because the husband had engaged in cruel treatment, the disproportionate division awarded fell within the trial court’s discretion.

The appeals court also reviewed the other factors considered by the trial court and found that there were reasonable bases to support the disproportionate division.

The appeals court also rejected the father’s argument that the disproportionate award was intended to punish him and was based in sex discrimination.  The appeals court noted that a two-thirds distribution to one spouse was within the trial court’s discretion when there is a finding of cruel treatment and did not reflect improper punishment.

Accordingly, the appeals court affirmed the trial court’s judgment.

As this case shows, fault can significantly affect property division.  A skilled Texas divorce attorney at McClure Law Group can work with you to determine if fault, whether cruel treatment or any of the several other fault-based grounds for divorce under Texas law, may be a factor in your divorce.  Call us at (214) 692-8200 to schedule a consultation.

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