A Texas divorce decree that is final and unambiguous and addresses all of the marital property may not be re-litigated. The court may, however, enforce the property division or enter a clarifying order if the decree is ambiguous. The trial court may not, however, amend, modify or change the substantive property division once its plenary power has expired. A husband recently challenged an enforcement/clarification order requiring him to sign certain documents and extending the time the wife had to refinance the home.
According to the appeals court’s opinion, the parties got divorced in August 2021. Pursuant to the agreed judgment, the wife was awarded the marital home, contingent on refinancing. She was required to pay the husband $75,000 within 15 days of refinancing the note. If she failed to refinance by February 1, 2022, then the home was to be listed with a real estate broker with experience in the area and sold at a mutually agreed-upon priced. The wife would keep 52% of the net proceeds and the husband would get the other 48%.
The wife was ordered to execute a deed of trust to secure owelty of partition and a lien note. The husband was ordered to execute a warranty deed. These documents were to be signed by 5:00 p.m. on the date the trial court signed the agreed divorce decree.
Petition to Enforce Property Division
The wife petitioned to enforce the property division in February 2022. She alleged the husband refused to sign the documents required to refinance the note. She asked the court to order him to deliver to her all of the documents she needed to refinance. She also asked for a clarifying order to provide terms specific enough to allow enforcement by contempt and to specify a required time for compliance.
The trial court found that some terms in the decree were not sufficiently specific to be enforced by contempt. The trial court clarified and required the husband to provide all signatures required to effectuate a release of his security interest in the home in exchange for $75,000, if paid by November 1, 2022. The trial court also ordered that the owelty lien and owelty lien note be modified to show that the $75,000 would be paid to the husband by that date, and if it was not timely paid, then the net proceeds of the sale of the home would go 52% to the wife and 48% to the husband.
The Husband’s Appeal
The husband appealed, arguing the decree was not ambiguous and did not need to be clarified. Thus, the trial court erred in rendering a clarification. He also argued the trial court substantively modified the decree, the owelty deed, and the owelty lien.
Both parties in this case waived a record of the enforcement hearing. Additionally, the husband did not request findings of fact and conclusions of law. The appeals court noted the trial court had implicitly found there was an ambiguity because the it was not sufficiently specific to be enforced through contempt. The appeals court also found the agreed judgment was ambiguous regarding what documents the husbanded needed to sign to effectuate the refinancing. The decree showed that the parties intended for the wife to refinance. The husband failed to show the trial court erred in finding clarification was needed.
The husband also argued the trial court modified the substantive terms of the agreed final decree by allowing the wife additional time to refinance. The appeals court noted the order implied the court found the wife had not paid the husband because she had not received the signatures she needed from the husband to refinance the home. The trial court amended the list of documents the husband was required to sign, required him “to provide all signatures necessary” to release his security interest in the home, and required him to provide the signatures in exchange for the $75,000. Without a record or findings and conclusions, the appeals court could not conclude there was an abuse of discretion. The appeals court had to presume the evidence supported the implied findings of the trial court. The appeals court therefore had to presume the evidence supported a finding the clarification order was within the court’s authority and assisted with implementing the previous order. The appeals court concluded the property division was not altered or changed by the order requiring the husband to sign all the documents required to release his security interest, except by postponing the effective date. The appeals court found the trial court did not err in allowing additional time because a trial court must allow a reasonable time to comply before it can enforce a clarifying order.
The appeals court affirmed the trial court’s order
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Sometimes, even with an agreed divorce decree, one spouse fails to comply. If you need to clarify or enforce your divorce decree, an experienced Dallas family law attorney can help. Call our offices at 214.692.8200 to set up a consultation.