Evidence of Separate Property in Texas Divorce Cases

iStock-1214358087-300x169Texas law presumes that property possessed by a spouse during or on dissolution of the marriage is community property.  Tex. Fam. Code § 3.003.  The presumption can only be rebutted by clear-and-convincing evidence the property is separate. In a recent case, a husband challenged the characterization and distribution of property in his divorce.

The parties got married in 2008 and separated in 2018.  The wife moved into her own apartment and filed for divorce in March 2018.

The wife submitted an inventory and appraisement, a copy of her student-loan activity, and a proposed property division.  The husband also submitted an inventory and appraisement, as well as account statements and receipts.

Trial Court Divides Community Estate

The court awarded each party a vehicle, 50% of the joint bank accounts, 50% of the community interest in certain investments, the bank accounts in their own names, and the personal effects and household goods and furnishings in their respective possession. Each party was also ordered to pay the debts each incurred since the separation.  The court also ordered each to pay certain specific debts.

The husband appealed, arguing the trial court erred in attributing certain debts to him.  He also argued the court awarded his separate property to the wife.

Husband Argues Wife Received “Double Recovery”

The husband argued the wife got a “double recovery” when she was awarded one of the vehicles while he was ordered to pay certain debts.  He testified they had taken out a loan against his 401k and used it to pay off the vehicle loan and other debts.  He argued the court’s order gave her a $20,000 increase in her share of the community property while simultaneously reducing her debt by $20,000.

He testified the 401k loan occurred at the end of 2017 and the debts were paid in 2018.  The appeals court found this meant community funds paid off a community debt. Furthermore, the trial court did not issue findings of fact and conclusions of law. The appeals court therefore had to presume the trial court had resolved any conflicts in the evidence when it divided the estate.  The appeals court found no abuse of discretion related to the husband’s double-recovery argument.

Husband Argues His Separate Property Improperly Divided

The husband also argued the court awarded his separate property to the wife.  He specifically argued the court had erred when it awarded a certain bedroom set and bar stools to the wife.  The trial court had not made specific findings or orders relating to personal property, but instead gave each party the personal and household property in their possession.  There was testimony that some of the husband’s separate property was in the wife’s possession. The husband argued he had provided receipts that showed those items were his separate property and the wife had not presented any contradictory evidence.  She argued that he had not overcome the presumption the items were community property by clear and convincing evidence.

The wife argued the husband had not included a “bedroom set” or “bar stools” in his inventory. He had also listed certain furniture, including a “panel bed,” “dresser,” and “mirror,” as community property.  Furthermore, the husband did not list any separate assets or liabilities, though he did state under the community-property itemization that the wife had possession of some of his separate property.  He did not, however, identify that property.

The appeals court found the husband’s inventory did not constitute a judicial admission and was at most a quasi-admission. Quasi-admissions are evidence, but are not conclusive.  The trier of fact determines the weight they are given.

The husband testified that, before the marriage, he had acquired the bedroom set and bar stools that were now in the wife’s possession. He also testified he had bought another bed in 2006. The husband offered receipts into evidence that showed the barstools were purchased in March 2002.  He also submitted receipts showing a bed with panels and a tall chest were bought from Ethan Allen in 2007.  He had an undated receipt showing another bed, chests, and mirror were also bought from Ethan Allen.

Appeals Court Finds Husband’s Testimony and Evidence Insufficient

The appeals court found the husband’s evidence was contradictory. The wife conceded some items had been purchased by the husband before the marriage.  She testified the bedroom set was in her possession, but said the children were using it. There was no testimony identifying which furniture was part of the “bedroom set” the husband sought to have characterized as separate property. The appeals court also noted the husband only briefly mentioned that the bar stools were in the wife’s possession and that there was no further testimony about them.

The appeals court found the husband had not provided clear-and-convincing evidence.  The receipts he provided listed multiple items, and his request was vague and did not specifically identify the items.  There were inconsistencies in the husband’s inventory. The appeals court found no abuse of discretion related to the characterization of the property and the property division.

The trial court also rejected the husband’s argument the court abused its discretion when it did not reduce his child support obligation by the cost of health insurance.

The appeals court affirmed the trial court’s judgment.

Proving Separate Property is Crucial – Retain the Diligent Attorneys at McClure Law Group to Help Secure Your Separate Property

This case illustrates the importance of having strong evidence of property’s separate character.  If you are anticipating a divorce with disputes over property, a skilled Texas divorce attorney can work with you to identify the evidence needed to present a strong case.  Call McClure Law Group at 214.692.8200 to set up an appointment to discuss your case.

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