Generally, a trial court in a Texas divorce case has the discretion to divide marital assets. A trial court can, however, abuse its discretion if it divides property without reference to guiding rules or principles and without evidence to support the ruling. An appeals court recently found that a trial court abused its discretion by mischaracterizing separate property as community property and improperly divesting the husband of his separate property.
Both parties had been married previously, and both asserted throughout the trial that they had separate property. They each pled and testified that they had separate property and submitted documentation showing they had separate property. Additionally, each submitted sworn inventories and filed proposed property divisions admitting the other party had separate property. Neither party ever disputed or contested the other’s claims. There were only two disputed issues before the court at the time of the trial: how to divide the wife’s retirement account and whether there were any reimbursement claims against the separate property.
The trial court, however, issued a letter ruling dividing all of the assets as though they were community property, despite the various agreements, stipulations, and uncontested submissions. The husband moved for reconsideration, and the wife filed a short response in opposition. The appeals court noted she had received the majority of the husband’s separate property under the letter ruling.