Property Distribution After Dissolution of a Texas Common Law Marriage

In a recent Texas appellate case, the court considered a divorce arising from a common law marriage. The husband argued that the lower court had made a mistake in mischaracterizing parcels of real property as community property and failing to reimburse him.

The couple started their common law marriage during the spring of 2013. No children came of the marriage, and there were differences about the precise beginning. Two pieces of real property were acquired that spring. The husband claimed he got one parcel, including the main house, by himself as a single person.

Two days later, the couple acquired an adjacent parcel as a married couple. There were five or six houses on it. According to the wife, both properties were gotten during the marriage and thus should be considered community property. The husband claimed both were separate property because their marriage didn’t start until after the first property was purchased. He claimed that the second property should still be characterized as separate property because title was taken by tracing back to an earnest money contract predating the marriage.

The husband asked for reimbursement for what he’d spent to buy the properties in case the lower court characterized one or the other of the parcels as community property. He wanted reimbursement for down payments. The wife seemed to concede during trial that he was entitled to reimbursement for down payments made, but she also said that any contributions were offset by the benefits his separate property interests got from community contributions and her separate property.

In the divorce decree, the first property was characterized as separate property of the husband, while the second property was considered community property. The husband was awarded title to the community property but ordered to pay half of the equity in it to the wife within 180 days, and the court secured the duty with an equitable lien. No reimbursement was awarded. The husband appealed.

The husband argued that there was a mischaracterization of the second property as community property, and even if it were community property, he was owed reimbursement for the down payment. The appellate court explained that property possessed by either spouse during the marriage or divorce was presumed to be community property. Clear and convincing evidence was required to establish the property was separate property.

To try to overcome this presumption, the husband used the inception of title doctrine, which states that property should be characterized as either community property or separate property based on when the spouse first has a claim of right to the property, based on when title vested relative to the start of the marriage. He argued that the deed may have been executed after he got married, but the earnest money contract in connection with the purchase and before he got married was clear and convincing evidence that he got title before the marriage.

The court agreed there are instances when the date of an earnest money contract can be considered enough to establish title inception. However, in this case, there wasn’t enough proof related to the earnest money contract. It was not dated and referred to the first property, rather than the second. The appellate court also found that the lower court had the discretion to find that any contributions of separate property made by the husband to benefit the community estate were offset by the wife’s contributions or the community’s. The divorce decree 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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