Gift Given Before Texas Marriage

In a recent Texas property division decision, an ex-husband tried to reverse a property distribution order issued as part of a divorce. The couple married in 2012, after the husband had bought a tractor and multiple attachments from a dealership. The husband had signed a five-year note to finance a portion of the purchase price of the equipment. The couple separated in 2014 when the wife sued him for divorce.

They both claimed that they owned certain items of property before marrying and that these should be considered separate property. The husband took issue with the court’s treatment of the tractor he’d bought, as well as the characterization of his bonus, received in May 2014 as community property. He argued that he earned the bonus based on a project that started before his marriage.

At trial, the wife gave the court an inventory of community property and her separate property. She listed the tractor as an asset over which she and her husband had a dispute. She said that the husband gave her the tractor as a gift before they married. Documents showed he’d bought the tractor close to a year before marriage, and he made all of the monthly payments since the sale.

However, the wife had two witnesses, his mother and a fence-builder, who testified that the tractor was a gift from the husband to the wife. The fence-builder testified that the husband had told him he was getting the tractor as a Christmas present, and that after it came to the farm owned by the wife’s father, he started using it. The mother testified that after the tractor was purchased, the husband asked her whether he’d seen what he got for the wife for Christmas, which referred to the tractor. The wife also testified that the tractor was given to her around Christmas of the year he bought it so that she could clear land. Additionally, there was testimony that they were remodeling a farm her father owned but didn’t farm.

However, the husband testified that he didn’t recall either of the conversations mentioned by the mother or the fence-builder and denied he would’ve gotten the wife a $30,000 present prior to their marriage. He also pointed to buying the tractor in his name and the gift he did give her, which was a bracelet and ring that was wrapped. He testified that the tractor wasn’t wrapped, nor did it come with a card to show he meant it as a gift. He did agree that when he bought it, it was for using it on the farm his wife’s father owned, which was overgrown and out of use.

The wife claimed the 2014 bonus as community property and wanted the court to make an equal division. The husband asked that the bonus be prorated over the four-year and eight-month period in which he claimed the bonus was earned while he worked on a project. The husband characterized a portion of it, slightly more than 80%, as separate property. The wife testified he didn’t know about the bonus until the project was over, so he didn’t earn it over the course of the project. The trial court characterized the tractor as separate property, although it allocated the remaining balance as the husband’s separate debt. It characterized the bonus as community property, which it divided evenly.

The appellate court explained that the wife had to present clear and convincing evidence that the husband intended to gift the tractor to her, that it was delivered, and that she accepted it, to overcome the presumption that the tractor was community property. The appellate court found there were conflicts in the testimony, but they weren’t severe enough to require the court to disregard the conclusion that the tractor was a gift. It also explained that since the bonus was paid while the couple was married, the lower court could presume it was community property, and the husband bore the burden of showing it was separate property or should be prorated. He didn’t meet that burden.

The lower court’s ruling was affirmed.

If your divorce involves matters related to property distribution, contact the Texas attorneys at the McClure Law Group at 214.692.8200.

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