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In a Texas divorce case, failure to follow the required procedures can result in the loss of property.  Parties should take care to identify all of the property that needs to be divided.  Additionally, if the court fails to address certain property in its findings, then the party must follow the appropriate procedures or may risk waiving that issue, as occurred in a recent case.

The parties married in 2007 and the husband filed for divorce in 2014.  He had been in the dairy business for many years and owned several properties at the time of the marriage.  The dairy sold milk and the court entered a temporary order granting the wife the proceeds from the “milk store” instead of spousal support.  She received a total of about $27,000 while the divorce was pending.  The wife agreed the husband bought some of the properties, including the dairy, before the marriage.

The wife appealed the property division.  She sought reimbursement for half of the value of taxes the community estate allegedly paid for the husband’s separate property during the marriage, the value of loans allegedly paid by the community to acquire goods and improvements for the dairy during the marriage, and the value of her separate property 401k used to improve the dairy.

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A Texas custody order can generally only be modified if there has been a material and substantial change in circumstances and if the modification is in the child’s best interest.  Texas courts have developed a non-exhaustive list of nine factors to be considered to determine the best interest of the child.  In some cases, a parent seeks modification because of attempted alienation by the other parent.

In a recent case, both parents sought modification of the original custody order.  Under the original agreed  order, both parents were joint managing conservators, the child lived with the mother, and the father had visitation rights.  The mother had the exclusive right to determine the child’s domicile and direct his education.  The parents shared the right to direct the child’s medical and psychiatric care.  The child was to be transferred for visitation at a designated location.

According to the opinion, the mother began refusing to transfer the child unless a police officer was present.  The father filed suit to change the transfer location to a police department.  The mother petitioned for supervised visitation with the father and to be named the sole managing conservator.  The father sought the exclusive right to determine domicile.

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Domicile is an important legal concept because it establishes where a person has certain legal rights and obligations.  A Texas divorce suit requires a party to have been domiciled in Texas for the preceding six-month period and a resident of the county where the suit was filed for the preceding 90-day period.  TEX. FAM. CODE ANN. § 6.301.  Domicile is the place a person intends to establish a permanent home. To establish domicile, the person must also act in execution of the intent.  For most people, domicile is fairly easy to identify, but it can be more complicated for members of the military.

The wife of a member of the Air Force recently challenged jurisdiction of a Texas divorce proceeding.  According to the appeals court’s opinion, the couple married in Texas in 2003. The husband identified Kendall County, Texas as his home of record.  Both parties testified that they and the children had lived in North Carolina continuously for the previous six years.  The wife filed for legal separation in North Carolina, and the husband subsequently filed for divorce in Kendall County, Texas.

The wife argued Texas did not have subject-matter jurisdiction.  The trial court dismissed the petition for divorce, finding Texas was not the children’s home state and they did not have significant contacts with Texas.  The trial court also found the father was not a resident of Kendall County, Texas.  The trial court ultimately concluded North Carolina was the more convenient forum and more suitable for hearing both the custody and the divorce.  The husband appealed.  The appeals court identified two separate issues in this case: the divorce and the custody.

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Chapter 8 of the Texas Family Code sets forth the circumstances under which a court in a Texas divorce case may order spousal maintenance.  Pursuant to section 8.051, the court may order maintenance if the spouse requesting it lacks sufficient property to provide for his or her minimum needs and meets one of the other enumerated conditions, related to family violence, disability, marriage lasting at least 10 years,  or a disabled child.  If a party disagrees with a maintenance obligation, it is best to challenge it immediately.  A Texas appeals court recently considered whether a trial court appropriately terminated a maintenance obligation the husband challenged in response to the wife’s enforcement petition rather than through a direct appeal.

According to the appeals court opinion, the couple divorced in 2014 and stipulated in an agreed divorce decree that the wife was eligible for maintenance under chapter 8 of the Family Code.  The trial court ordered the husband to pay spousal maintenance until either party’s death, the wife’s remarriage, or further orders of the court.  The husband was to provide his payroll statement to the wife on request.

Nearly three years later, the wife petitioned for enforcement of the maintenance.  She argued the husband had refused to provide his payroll statement. She asked the court to enter a clarifying order if it found any part of the decree to be insufficiently specific to be enforced.

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The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prevents anyone from being “compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself.” A party in a Texas civil case can “plead the Fifth” during discovery to avoid answering questions in a deposition if the party reasonably believes the answer might incriminate him in a criminal case. A plaintiff cannot, however, use the Fifth Amendment to prevent the other party from obtaining information they need to prepare a defense.  A trial court can impose sanctions when a party uses the Fifth Amendment privilege offensively, but the court must consider whether remedial steps could solve the issue.  The court may also impose sanctions when a party wrongfully invokes the Fifth Amendment.

In a recent Texas divorce case, the husband faced serious sanctions after raising the Fifth Amendment during his deposition.  In June 2015, the wife filed for divorce and the husband filed a counterpetition.  The wife alleged the husband had assaulted her and committed adultery.  She also alleged he hid community assets, wrote fraudulent checks to third parties and cashed them himself, and conveyed community property to his sister.  The husband alleged the wife also secreted assets and filed false charges against him for family violence assault.

When the wife’s attorney sent notice of the date of the husband’s deposition, his attorney responded it would be “futile” because the husband’s criminal attorney was likely to advise him to “plead the fifth” due to the pending criminal charges.  During deposition, the husband refused to answer many questions on the grounds his answer might incriminate him in the pending criminal case, including some that would not be covered by the Fifth Amendment privilege.  He repeatedly asserted his Fifth Amendment privilege regarding “anything that has to do with financials…”  He refused to answer questions regarding his income, assets, and a list of property.  He also refused to identify documents.  There was no record of either the wife’s or the husband’s attorney explaining to him why he could not invoke his Fifth Amendment privilege in response to many of the questions asked.

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In Texas custody cases, the best interest of the child is to be the primary consideration.  In Texas, courts may consider a variety of factors in determining what is in the child’s best interest.  These factors include the child’s desires, the child’s current and future physical and emotional needs, any current or future physical or emotional danger to the child, parental abilities of those seeking custody, the programs available to each party, each party’s plans for the child, the stability of the home, any acts or omissions of the parent that could indicate the relationship with the child is not proper, and any excuse for those acts or omissions.  The court is not limited to these factors, nor does it have to consider all of them.

In a recent case, a father challenged a court’s finding that granting the mother the right to determine the children’s primary residence was in the children’s best interest.  The parents’ relationship ended shortly after their twin sons were born in 2011.  The trial court originally appointed the parents joint managing conservators and gave the mother the exclusive right to designate the children’s primary residence.  A modification in 2014 gave the father the exclusive right to determine primary residence and allowed the mother access to the children under a schedule.  Pursuant to the order, the mother had the option to pick up the children on evenings the father was scheduled to work later than 10 pm.

The mother petitioned for the right to determine the primary residence in 2016.  She testified the father had his sister take care of the children when he was not available and prevented her from accessing them.  She testified she thought the children lived with their father’s sister.  She argued she could provide them more structure and stability than their father could.

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Enforcing a child support order against a person who fails or refuses to pay can become time-consuming and expensive.  Texas family law provides multiple options for enforcing a child support order.  It also allows a person enforcing a child support order to recover reasonable attorney’s fees and costs if the court finds the other party “failed to make child support payments.” TEX. FAM. CODE § 157.167(a).

When a child support payment is not timely made, it becomes a final judgment by operation of law. TEX. FAM. CODE  § 157.261(a) In a recent case, the mother sought a writ of execution on the final judgment that arose as a result of the father’s failure to pay the child support.  The trial court found she had “a valid enforceable judgment” that was “wholly unsatisfied and subject to execution.”  The constable took possession of certain of the father’s property and held an execution sale.  Both the mother and father sought disbursement of the proceeds of the sale.

There was additional litigation related to the mother’s collection efforts.  The trial court ultimately ordered the father to pay $30,675 to the mother for attorney’s fees.  The trial court based the attorney’s fees on the attorney’s affidavit and timesheet.  The father appealed.

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Texas recognizes common law marriages. To have a common law marriage, the parties must have agreed to be married, must have lived together as spouses after that agreement, and presented themselves as married.  When most people think of common law marriages, they consider couples who were never formally married.  However, in a recent case, a man sought a Texas divorce from his ex-wife, alleging there was a common law marriage after their original divorce.

The parties married in 2000 and divorced in 2005.  They lived together until at least 2006 and had children together in 2006 and 2007. They worked together.  Although they agreed that the relationship changed in 2012, they did not agree as to what happened later.  The husband claimed they moved back in together by the end of 2013 and continued their relationship until late 2014.

The husband filed for divorce in 2015. The wife moved for summary judgment on the grounds that they were not married.  She argued they did not meet the requirements of a common law marriage. She offered affidavits the parties signed in 2013 indicating they were not married, did not live together, and had not held themselves out as married.  In her deposition, she had denied living with the husband.  She also pointed out the husband was unable identify the exact date of an agreement to be married.  She also relied on documents in which the husband indicated he was divorced and not married, including a bankruptcy petition filed under oath.

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A Texas court generally cannot modify a custody order or parenting plan unless there has been a material and substantial change in circumstances.  Sometimes, a parent may seek modification because the other parent’s actions have created a change in circumstances.  Texas law provides examples of potential material changes, including marriage of one of the parents, changes in the home surroundings, and mistreatment of the child by a parent or step-parent.  Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 156.101.

A Texas appeals court recently considered whether a modification allowing the father, rather than the mother, to determine the child’s primary residence was appropriate.  In the Texas divorce, the mother was awarded the family home, which was subject to a mortgage in both names.  The father paid child support.  At the time of the divorce, the child went to daycare while the mother worked, then spent a few hours with the father, and spent the night with his mother.

The mother subsequently started working a night shift.  The child continued going to daycare, but then spent both evenings and nights with the father.  The mother sold the family home to the father and moved into another home with the child’s maternal grandmother.  Soon afterward, she switched to the day shift.  She removed the child from daycare and left him with the grandmother during the day.  The mother then only allowed the father to see the child on the days specified in the divorce decree, and would deny him access to the child if he was late, even by a few minutes.

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Property possessed by either party at the time of a Texas divorce is presumed to be community property.  To show that property was instead separate, the presumption must be rebutted by clear and convincing evidence.  If the assets were not maintained separately from community assets, they must be traced back to separate property by showing the origin of the property.  Income earned during the marriage is also community property.

A wife recently challenged a court’s finding that a down payment made from her savings account was made with community funds.  After six years of marriage, the parties filed for divorce.  In the wife’s counter petition, she sought reimbursement to her separate estate for assets she alleged were spent for the benefit of the community estate.

At the hearing, the husband sought half the equity in the marital home and community funds he alleged the wife had deposited into her checking account and given to her adult child. The parties agreed on the value of the home and the amount of the down payment.  The husband admitted the down payment had come from the wife’s savings account, but argued that it came from community property funds that had been commingled into the wife’s savings account.  He testified that she deposited her paychecks into her checking account and transferred funds to the savings account.   He testified the savings account had $162,168.61 at the time of the marriage.  The bank records showed $282,847.69 was in the account before the withdrawal for the down payment.   The husband also testified he had given his wife cash to pay the utilities and half of the mortgage payment.

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