When parties to a Texas divorce agree to a property division, the final judgment based on the agreement must strictly comply with it. The trial court cannot add, change, or leave out material terms. A final judgment based on a property division agreement must be set aside if it is not in strict compliance with the agreement, unless the discrepancy is a clerical error. An appeals court may modify a judgment to correct a clerical error. A former husband recently challenged the property division in his divorce due to a number of alleged discrepancies.
Husband and Wife Submitted Proposed Property Division
According to the appeals court’s opinion, the parties agreed to a proposed property division, identified as “Exhibit A.” The wife testified the division was fair and just. She agreed to split funds in the husband’s IRA equally after he was credited $90,000 as separate property and to split the funds in his “Edge” and “Smart” retirement plans equally.
The husband initially disagreed with the property division in Exhibit A, but later asked the court to approve it. The trial court admitted the document into evidence, asked the parties to draft and sign an agreed final decree.
The husband’s attorney requested edits to the proposed decree the wife’s attorney drafted. The proposed decree divided the IRA and Edge retirement plans by account numbers and stated the percentage division of all of the accounts. The husband requested the decree state a dollar amount for each account number and the date the funds would be locked. He was uncertain if the funds would be divided as of the date of the final hearing, when the court said they were divorced, or the date the court signed the final decree.
Trial Court Signs Divorce Decree and Denies Husband’s Motion for New Trial
The wife and her attorney signed the decree without the edits, but the husband and his attorney did not. The trial court ultimately signed the decree.
The trial court denied the husband’s motion for a new trial, but clarified that the date applicable to the division was the date of the divorce decree. The trial court also awarded attorney’s fees to the wife.
The husband appealed, arguing the court erred by failing to divide the community property in accordance with the evidence and the agreement, to segregate and confirm his separate property, and to divide the estate in a just and right manner.
Appeals Court Finds Property Division Agreed Upon – However, Date of Division Incorrect
The appeals court noted that, although Exhibit A was not signed by both parties, it had been reduced to writing, agreed upon in open court, and entered into the record. Additionally, the parties testified it would be incorporated into the decree. The appeals court concluded that Exhibit A represented the agreed property division.
Although the court had stated that dates relating to monies would be the date of the divorce decree, the trial court rendered judgment at the end of the final divorce hearing. The parties were divorced as of that date. Subsequent increases in the value of the retirement plans would be separate property and not subject to division. The appeals court stated the accounts would be divided based on their value on the date of the final divorce hearing.
The husband argued there were discrepancies between the evidence and the decree. The appeals court found the decree conformed with Exhibit A although it listed account numbers that were not stated in Exhibit A and referred to one account by a different name.
The husband argued one account was listed with different values in his inventory and appraisement and his attorney’s letter to the court. Neither of those documents had been admitted into evidence. Texas courts have held that an inventory and appraisement may not be considered as evidence of a property’s value if it has not been admitted into evidence. Furthermore, the parties agreed to divide the funds equally, and the appeals court determined that division would be based on the value as of the date of the final divorce hearing. The decree did not need a specific value.
The appeals court likewise rejected the husband’s argument that the total value of the retirement accounts stated in Exhibit A differed from the total calculated from the amounts in the decree.
Appeals Court Finds Decree Conformed with Agreed Property Division
After considering the discrepancies identified by the husband, the appeals court concluded the decree sufficiently conformed with Exhibit A.
The appeals court also rejected the husband’s argument the trial court failed to segregate and confirm his separate property in the Smart account. Exhibit A, the decree, and even the wife’s testimony provided for the $90,000 in separate property to be subtracted before the account was divided equally. The appeals court found the husband was not divested of his separate property in that account.
The husband argued his inventory and appraisement identified separate property in the Edge account. The inventory and appraisement was not in evidence and there was no other evidence the parties agreed to deduct separate property from that account. The appeals court therefore found the trial court had not abused its discretion by dividing the estate in accordance with Exhibit A, to which the husband had agreed.
The appeals court agreed that certain language in the decree created ambiguities, but found that language represented clerical errors. The appeals court therefore modified the decree to delete that language.
Divorce Decree Improperly Divided Husband’s Separate Property and Improperly Awarded Attorney’s Fees
The appeals court also agreed that decree had improperly ordered a division of retirement benefits from the husband’s future employment with his employer when there was no evidence the parties had agreed to divide future retirement benefits in addition to past and present benefits. The appeals court therefore struck the language regarding his future employment.
The appeals court also agreed the trial court had erred in awarding attorney’s fees to the wife, finding there was no evidence in the record to show the services performed, hours billed, or rate.
The appeals court affirmed the judgment as modified in part, but reversed in part and remanded for the trial court to determine attorney’s fees.
Issues Can Arise Even with Agreed Property Divisions – Call the Astute Attorneys at McClure Law Group Today
This case shows that an agreement does not necessarily resolve all disputes in a property division. An experienced Texas divorce attorney can help you ensure that any agreement reflects the intent of the parties. If you are considering divorce, schedule a consultation with McClure Law Group by calling our office at 214.692.8200.