Cruelty and Fraud on the Community in a Texas Divorce

iStock-848796670The trial court must divide property in a just and right manner in a Texas divorce.  The division must be equitable, and should not be punitive against either spouse.  A husband recently challenged a property division, arguing it had been punitive against him.

The wife filed for divorce after the parties had been married for over 30 years.  She alleged the husband had engaged in cruel treatment and had committed fraud on the community estate.

Wife’s Trial Testimony Highlighted Abusive Marriage

The wife said the husband often disparaged her appearance, individual worth, and profession in front of others and in private. According to appeals court’s opinion, the husband earned significantly more money than the wife and controlled the couple’s finances.  The wife said the husband used his control of the couple’s finances punitively and, for example, would not give her money to go to Poland to visit her family when they were sick and would not pay for a surgery she needed. She also testified that he said her mother had died of a stroke because she was a bad daughter and a bad person. Other witnesses, including the couple’s daughter, corroborated the wife’s allegations of verbal abuse. The husband, however, denied it and claimed they were all liars.

The wife testified the husband had withdrawn thousands of dollars for his friends to take to his sister in Poland.  She said the sister was financially stable and did not need the money.  She said the husband told her it was his money and he could do what he wanted with it.

The husband refused to disclose information about some financial accounts, but the wife subpoenaed the financial institutions during the divorce case. She found that hundreds of thousands of dollars were missing with no legitimate explanation for some of the transfers. The husband stated in his interrogatory responses that he had made those transfers to keep from having too much money in debit accounts, but could not provide additional information at trial.

Trial Court Awards Husband a Fraction of the Community Estate

The trial court granted the divorce on the basis of the husband’s cruel treatment.  It also found he had committed a fraud on the community and reconstituted the community estate.  It awarded the amount of the fraud to the husband as an illusory asset and awarded the wife the home and most of the tangible assets.  The appeals court noted that the husband actually received less than 10% of the existing community estate, if the illusory asset (i.e., reconstituted community estate) was not considered.

The husband appealed, arguing the trial court’s finding of cruelty was improper and the court had not considered other factors regarding the fraud.  He argued that the result was that the property division was punitive.

Husband Argues that Trial Court’s Orders were Improperly Punitive

The husband argued that name-calling was not cruelty. The appeals court noted, however, that binding case law had established that “deliberate insults and provocations” could constitute cruel treatment in a divorce case.  The appeals court also pointed out that the wife had testified about two instances of physical abuse, one in which the husband threw hot tea and another in which he grabbed, pushed, and threatened to kill her.

The husband also argued that they had worked out their differences on a vacation.  The appeals court pointed out that some of the cruel treatment occurred after that vacation.

The appeals court found that the trial court had not acted arbitrarily or unreasonably in making its cruelty finding. The trial court could consider its finding when dividing the property, but could not make a punitive division.

The husband argued the property division was punitive because the trial court had failed to consider other factors.  Specifically, he alleged the wife committed fraud on the community.  He pointed to evidence of an investment he said she made without his knowledge. The parties disagreed about the amount, but it was not disputed that the investment was made for the children’s benefit.  The husband argued that the court’s failure to find the wife committed a fraud on the community resulted in a property division that was punitive toward him.

The appeals court noted that the trial court could have found the investment was not a fraud because it was for the children’s benefit.  The wife testified the husband had threatened to leave them without any money and she was worried he was taking money from the children’s accounts. The appeals court found that the evidence did not prove the investment was a fraud on the community as a matter of law, so the trial court did not have to consider it when reconstituting the estate or dividing the property.

The husband also argued the court had not considered that he had paid the living expenses, but he did not point to any evidence supporting that claim.

The appeals court affirmed the final decree.

Hidden Assets and Questionable Transactions Greatly Impact a Divorce; Call the Diligent Attorneys at McClure Law Group Today

Financial transactions that occur before separation can have an impact on the division of property, especially when they are done without the other spouse’s knowledge or consent. Hiding or depleting assets may result in a finding of fraud on the community. If you are considering divorce and are concerned your spouse may try to take community assets, a skilled Texas divorce attorney can fight to protect your assets.  Schedule an appointment with McClure Law Group by calling 214.692.8200.


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