A court in a Texas divorce must divide the marital estate in a just and right manner. A just and right division does not necessarily mean an equal division. Courts may consider a variety of factors in determining the property division, including fault in the break-up, income disparity, the relative earning capacity of the parties, education, age, physical condition, and financial condition of the parties. A husband recently appealed a disproportionate division of property.
The appeals court’s opinion stated the parties established a common-law marriage in 2015 after living together for 18 years. They separated in 2018 and the wife petitioned for divorce in 2019, claiming insupportability and cruelty. In his counter-petition, the husband also alleged insupportability and cruelty and adultery on the part of the wife. They each requested a disproportionate division of the marital estate.
FINAL HEARING ON PROPERTY DIVISION
They reached a settlement on the issues related to the children, so the final hearing addressed only the property division. The community estate included bank accounts, the husband’s retirement benefits, vehicles, and debt. The parties had also purchased two homes as tenants in common before they were married. They each lived in one of the homes after the separation.
The wife testified the husband abused her during their relationship. She had not contacted law enforcement, but had told family and friends. She testified she had been dating a man for about a year, but denied being involved with him prior to the separation.
She testified she worked cleaning houses and earned $1600 per month, with no retirement or health insurance benefits. She was responsible for the mortgage payment on the home where she lived and for two of the car loans. She testified none of the three vehicles were worth more than they owed. She was also responsible for one child’s baseball costs. She had $6,000 in credit card debt and owed more than that in attorney’s fees. The husband paid her monthly child support of $1,500, but she said he had not paid her the spousal support or attorney’s fees awarded to her in pretrial temporary orders.
The husband denied he had abused the wife. He said she had lied about being married to someone else in El Salvador while she claimed to be married to him. He testified he did not know until December 2015 that her previous marriage had not been legally dissolved. He thought they were living as spouses before that time, and he continued to live with her after he found out she had still been legally married. He asked the court to consider whether the wife wanted to marry her new boyfriend in the property division.
COURT AWARDS WIFE DISPROPORTIONATE SHARE OF PROPERTY
The trial court granted the divorce on grounds of insupportability and cruelty as requested by the wife. The decree did not assign value to the assets and debt or state it was awarding a disproportionate share to the wife, but the parties agreed that the wife was awarded the greater share. The trial court awarded her 50% of the husband’s retirement benefits and the three vehicles in her possession with one to be used by their adult son. The trial court characterized the home where the wife lived and corresponding debt as her separate property. It ordered a sale of the other home, with a 60/40 split in favor of the wife.
The husband appealed arguing the trial court abused its discretion in awarding the wife a disproportionate share of the estate.
Neither party requested findings of fact, so the appeals court did not have information on exactly how the estate was divided. It was not disputed, however, that the wife had been awarded a disproportionate share, so the appeals court could determine whether there was an abuse of discretion in the unequal distribution.
APPEALS COURT UPHOLDS DIVORCE DECREE
The divorce was granted on both fault and no-fault grounds. Although it was unclear if the trial court had considered fault, fault is a factor that may be considered. The wife had testified about psychological, physical, and sexual abuse. The trial court could have believed those allegations instead of the husband’s denial. The trial court may also have considered evidence of other factors, including the relative income, financial condition, and earning capacity of the parties. There was evidence the husband earned twice and sometimes three times as much as the wife’s monthly income, as well as additional financial benefits from his employment. This evidence supported an unequal property division.
The appeals court concluded the husband had not shown the trial court abused its discretion in disproportionately dividing the property. The appeals court also rejected the husband’s challenge of attorney’s fees awarded to the wife. Finding no abuse of discretion, the appeals court affirmed the divorce decree.
CONTACT MCCLURE LAW GROUP TODAY
This case shows a situation in which a court may determine a disproportionate distribution is just and right. If you are facing divorce, an experienced Texas divorce attorney at McClure Law Group can help you fight for a fair property division. Call our offices at 214.692.8200 for a consultation.