Articles Tagged with Texas

iStock-545456068-300x184A court may proceed with a Texas divorce case even if a party does not appear for the trial. In some cases, a party who fails to respond to divorce papers or appear at trial may be entitled to a new trial, but they must meet certain requirements.  In a recent case, a husband appealed the denial of a new trial and challenged the property division in a default divorce.

According to the appeals court’s opinion, the parties lived in the husband’s home in Texas after their marriage in Nigeria.  The husband bought a home in New Hampshire and moved there in 2017.  The wife petitioned for divorce in 2018.

The trial court issued a temporary restraining order prohibiting the husband from interfering with the wife’s health insurance, but he informed the insurer they were divorced while the divorce was pending. The wife’s coverage was cancelled.  The wife had to pay $7,500 for medical expenses that the insurer had approved before cancellation. The trial court also prohibited the husband from terminating utility services, but the wife alleged he had them disconnected repeatedly.

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iStock-545456068-300x184A trial court may order a post-divorce division of community property that was not divided or awarded to either spouse in a Texas divorce decree. Tex. Fam. Code § 9.201.  The court may not, however, order a post-divorce division of property that was already divided in the divorce. The legal doctrine of res judicata prevents a party from re-litigating issues such as categorization of assets or improper division in a new case.  Parties must instead address such issues through direct appeals. In a recent case, a wife sought a post-divorce division of certain bonuses the husband received after the divorce.

The parties married in 2014, and the wife petitioned for divorce the next year.  The husband included several bonuses in his asset inventory. He listed a $0 value for the bonuses that would only be payable after the divorce if he remained employed on the designated date. He testified they had no value because they were conditional on future events.

The wife argued the future bonuses were deferred compensation for work performed during the marriage and estimated their value at more than $4 million.

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iStock-1183385986-scaledTexas divorce cases can involve multiple areas of law. Contract law applies to pre-marital and post-marital agreements. Contract law may also apply to agreements the parties enter into as part of a divorce.  In a recent case, a portion of a wife’s claims for contractual alimony was barred by the contract statute of limitations.

When the parties divorced in 2012, they entered into a written agreement.  Their divorce decree included a provision for “Contractual Alimony,” with the parties agreeing that the husband would pay the wife $4,000 per month, payable on the first of the month with a five-day grace period before the payment would be considered late.  The contractual alimony was to be paid from June 2013 to May 2015. The decree further stated that the wife could accelerate the payments if the husband defaulted and failed to cure within 30 days of receiving notice of intent to accelerate.

Wife Moves to Enforce Contractual Alimony

The wife moved to enforce the alimony requirements on March 26, 2019. She alleged the husband had failed to make the payments starting in December 2013.  She asked the court to order him to pay the past due payments, interest, and fees and costs.

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iStock-1270267953Texas is one of the few states that still recognizes “informal marriage,” also sometimes known as “common law marriage.” A party who petitions for divorce from an informal marriage  often must  prove the existence of the informal marriage in the first place. To prove there was an informal marriage, the party must show the couple had an agreement to be married, subsequently lived as spouses together in Texas, and represented themselves as married. Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 2.401. Furthermore, all of these elements must occur at the same time.  Evidence of an informal marriage may include evidence the parties addressed each other as spouses, conducted themselves as married people, or lived together. Evidence that the parties lived together and represented themselves as married is not alone sufficient to establish the existence  of an agreement to be married.

In a recent case, an alleged husband challenged the court’s finding of the existence of an informal marriage. The parties moved to Texas from Colorado with the alleged wife’s two children in 1985. They separated in early 2012.  In 2015, the alleged wife filed a trespass to try title suit, claiming joint ownership in real property due to an informal marriage.  That lawsuit was consolidated with her subsequent divorce action.

The trial court ultimately found the parties had been in an informal marriage.  The court granted a divorce and divided their property.  The husband appealed, arguing there was insufficient evidence to support the existence of an informal marriage.

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iStock-543681178Under federal law, a court may not treat military disability benefits as community property for purposes of property distribution in a Texas divorce case. A husband recently challenged the property distribution in his divorce decree, arguing the court had improperly divided a portion of his military disability benefits.

Trial Court Divides Husband’s Military Retirement Benefits

The wife petitioned for divorce and sought a majority of the community assets.  The court granted the divorce on grounds of insupportability and adultery.  The decree gave the wife 55% of the husband’s disposable military retired pay, attorney’s fees, and conditional appellate attorney’s fees. The husband appealed.

The husband contended the 55% of his disposable military retired pay awarded to the wife erroneously included disability payments. The wife, however, argued the award did not include disability benefits and the decree had specifically awarded him his “VA Disability and Social Security Disability benefits” as separate property.

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imagesIn a Texas divorce case, property acquired during the marriage is presumed to be community property. A spouse claiming property is their separate property must show that it is separate by clear and convincing evidence.  Separate property is generally property that is owned before the marriage, property that the spouse acquired as a gift or inheritance, or property recovered as damages in a personal injury case.  Community property is generally property acquired after the marriage that is not characterized as separate property.

In a recent case, a wife challenged the court’s characterization of certain property as the husband’s separate property.  The wife filed for divorce. The parties agreed they had married in India in 1976, but disagreed on the date they stopped living together as husband and wife.

Husband and Wife Enter into Settlement – But Leave One Issue for Trial

The case went to trial, but, before trial, the parties entered into a Mediated Settlement Agreement (“MSA”).  In the MSA, the parties agreed their community property located in India would be divided by Indian courts.  The parties agreed to the characterization and division of everything except two pieces of land in India, referred to as the “Fifteen-Cent” property and the “One-and-a-half-Acres” property. The MSA stated they would “defer to characterization and confirmation of separate property” of those two parcels to the trial court.

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iStock-1139699594When a court considers Texas child custody and visitation, the child’s best interest is the primary concern.  The court considers certain factors, including what the child wants, the child’s current and future needs, any danger to the child, the parents’ respective abilities, programs available, the parents’ plans for the child, stability, any acts or omissions indicating the relationship between the parent and child is not proper, and any excuse for those acts or omissions.

A father recently appealed a denial of his petition for modification and grant of the mother’s counterpetition.  At the time of the divorce, the trial court ordered the parties not to move from a specific area without a modification order or written agreement filed with the court.  Neither parent was given the exclusive right to designate the child’s primary residence.  Nonetheless, both parents moved outside of the geographical boundary after the divorce.

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When a spouse petitions for a Texas divorce, the other spouse must file an answer.  If the other spouse fails to do so, the court may render a default judgment.  Under certain circumstances, however, the other spouse may get the default judgment overturned.  In a recent case, a husband sought to overturn a default judgment entered against him.

According to the Texas Supreme Court’s opinion, the wife filed for divorce.  The trial court granted her motion for alternative service at the home of her husband’s mother.  The trial court ultimately entered a no-answer default judgment the following January.

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iStock-545456068-scaledA court must base its decisions regarding custody and visitation primarily on the child’s best interest.  In a recent Texas case, a father challenged a court’s modification of his prior possession order, restricting him to supervised visitation with his daughter.

The mother petitioned to be named the child’s sole managing conservator and asked the court to either deny visitation with the father or, in the alternative, to require it to be supervised.  She alleged the child had reported being spanked, being physically punished by her stepmother and her step-grandmother, being forced to stand in a corner, being underfed sometimes, being subjected to verbal abuse and threats of physical violence, and being required to stay in her room watching television for hours while she was in her father’s custody.  The mother also alleged the child’s foot had been injured by her step-grandmother and not given medical attention.  She further alleged the child’s stepmother repeatedly tried to put makeup on the child when she was allergic to it.

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iStock-848796670Generally, there must be a material and substantial change in circumstances to justify a modification of a Texas custody order. An appeals court recently considered whether a father judicially admitted the existence of a material and substantial change when he objected to the modification sought by the mother, but petitioned, in the alternative, for different modifications.

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