Although testimony can be important evidence in a Texas divorce, documentary evidence is needed for some claims. A wife recently challenged a number of issues in her divorce based on insufficiency of evidence.
According to the appeals court’s opinion, the parties acquired several rental properties during their marriage. The husband petitioned for divorce in July 2020. The trial was originally scheduled for October 7, 2020, but the wife moved for a continuance and asked for mediation.
The trial date was reset for April 28, 2021, but the wife moved for another continuance the day before. The trial was rescheduled for May 6, 2021, and she again requested a continuance. The trial court denied the motion.
The trial court ultimately granted the divorce, confirmed three properties identified in the husband’s original petition as his separate property, awarded the husband three rental properties and the marital residence as his separate property, confirmed one property as the wife’s separate property, and awarded her six rental properties as her separate property.
The wife appealed.
Motion for Continuance
Pursuant to Texas Rule of Civil Procedure 251, a trial court may only grant a continuance for sufficient cause, with the parties’ consent, or by operation of law. A motion for continuance must state supporting facts and either be verified or supported by an affidavit.
The wife argued the trial court abused its discretion in denying the continuance. In her third motion, she stated she received the husband’s appraisal report six days before trial and needed her own appraisal. She argued he had not provided the full report when she requested it on April 7, but he argued he provided it on April 21. He also argued she could have obtained her own appraisal at any point. In denying the motion, the trial court pointed out the case had been pending since July 7, 2020.
The trial court based its denial of the motion on the case’s length. It had already reset the case twice. The appeals court found the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying the motion.
The wife also argued there was insufficient evidence supporting the finding she was not entitled to spousal maintenance. She contended the husband had presented only testimonial evidence that the rental properties she was awarded generated sufficient rental income to meet her needs.
The trial court found the wife would receive sufficient income to provide for her needs due to the property she was awarded. She was awarded six rental properties, the husband’s retirement account, and two vehicles. The husband testified those six properties earned $3,600 in rent each month. He also testified he could not produce the rental agreements and other documents because the wife stole them.
The wife did not dispute the husband’s testimony, but testified he controlled the finances. She said she was living in a property given by her parents since the separation. She said she was not employed, but had worked at the beginning of the marriage. She testified she needed $4,500 in monthly support.
There was nothing in the record showing the property the wife was awarded would not meet her minimum reasonable needs. There was no evidence of her monthly expenses. She did not provide evidence showing she could not provide for her minimum reasonable needs or that she had diligently sought suitable employment. The appeals court held the finding the wife was not entitled to spousal support was reasonable.
The wife also argued there was insufficient evidence supporting the trial court’s findings related to valuation of the properties.
A property owner may generally testify about their property’s market value if they provide the factual basis for their opinion. Supporting information may include appraisals, price paid, tax valuations, nearby sales, and other relevant factors. The trial court entered a finding listing the value for fourteen properties, with only the husband’s testimony as evidence of the valuations. He testified the properties, other than the residence, should be valued according to the Bexar County Appraisal District’s valuations. He testified five of the properties were valued at a total of $569,410 according to that valuation and the six properties awarded to the wife had a total valuation of $326,430. Except testimony he bought two properties in 2000 for $43,000, there was no other testimony specifically addressing each valuation.
The appeals court concluded the husband’s testimony was an unsubstantiated naked assertion of market value. Although valuation errors are not necessarily an abuse of discretion, they may require reversal if they substantially affect the court’s just and right division of property. The appeals court concluded that the lack of sufficient support for the valuations substantially affected the property division and remanded for a new division of the entire community estate.
The wife also argued there was insufficient evidence supporting findings related to property characterization. She challenged a finding characterizing one property (“Leal property”) as community property and another characterizing two properties as husband’s separate property (“Salinas properties”). Both parties testified the wife inherited the Leal property. The appeals court held the trial court abused its discretion in characterizing it as community property. Without evidence of the property’s value, the appeals court was unable to determine how the just and right division was affected.
The husband testified he bought the Salinas properties in June 2000, before the marriage that August. He testified the deeds were recorded on June 27, 2000. There was no documentary evidence tracing the separate nature of the property. There was also a lack of clarity regarding whether the person who conveyed the Salinas properties to the husband fully owned them at the time. The appeals court concluded the husband had not clearly and convincingly shown the Salinas properties were separate. The trial court had therefore abused its discretion when it characterized them his separate property.
The appeals court also agreed with the wife that the trial court erred in concluding its property division was just and right.
Because the trial court abused its discretion in characterizing and valuing the property, the appeals court reversed the property division and remanded for a just and right division.
Documentary evidence can be vital to matters related to expenses, valuations, and characterization of property. If you are facing a divorce involving complicated property issues, you need a skilled Texas divorce attorney to help you identify and gather the evidence needed to support your case. Call McClure Law Group at 214.692.8200 to set up a consultation.