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Attempted Compliance with a Texas Divorce Decree

Legal News GavelParties to a divorce often have to cooperate to complete the property division.  Texas divorce attorneys know, however, that parties are not always willing to cooperate.  A Texas appeals court recently considered whether a husband sufficiently complied with an order that he make a payment to the wife when he contacted the wife to make payment arrangements.

The parties came to a mediated settlement agreement and signed off on the proposed agreed final divorce decree.  The final decree ordered the husband to pay the wife $10,000 for the marital residence within 90 days of May 13, 2014.  Another section, under a subheading titled “Division After Full Payment of $10,000…,” provided that after the husband paid the $10,000 in full, he would be awarded the marital home.

Another section stated if the payment was not made in full within two years of May 13, 2014, the marital residence would be awarded to the wife, and the husband would be divested of all right, title, interest, and claim in the marital residence.

The husband did not pay the wife the full $10,000 within 90 days.  By May 12, 2016, he had paid $1,200. He contacted her on that day by email and text, telling her he had the money and wanted to arrange payments.  He asked for her account information so he could wire the money, but she refused to provide it the following day.  She instead demanded he pay the full amount in cash.  He agreed and tried to set up a meeting, but the wife refused.  The husband petitioned for enforcement of the decree.

The wife argued at the hearing that the husband did not have funds available on either May 12 or May 13, 2016.  She testified she wanted the property, instead of the money.  She had control of the property at the time of the hearing but had rented it out.

The husband argued he had the money in his bank account and had been trying to contact Julia since May 12 to make the payment.  The trial judge found the husband was willing and able to pay.  The court noted there were text messages as of May 5, 2016, in which the husband tried to negotiate half payment.  However, by May 12 or May 13, he had confirmed he would pay the full amount.  The wife testified she had in fact received the email in which he stated he had the money and requested her account information.

The trial court awarded the property to the husband and ordered him to deliver the money into the registry of the court.  The enforcement order, entered on June 17, 2016, also ordered the wife to vacate the premises by July 11.

The wife moved for a new trial and appealed on July 11.  She claimed she had been prevented from introducing testimony and evidence and had “unwittingly waived a record.”  The motion for a new trial was overruled, and the appeal moved forward.

The wife argued the trial court erred in failing to address the requirement the husband pay the $10,000 within 90 days.  The appeals court found the final decree was ambiguous.  The appeals court noted there was no remedy for failure to pay within the 90 days.  There was also a provision that he had two years to pay, and that provision included a remedy for his failure to pay.  The wife had acknowledged at a hearing he had two years to pay.  The appeals court also found that communications between the parties suggested they were both operating under the belief he had two years to pay.  The appeals court found the trial court did not err by not addressing the 90-day requirement in the enforcement order.

The wife also argued the court erred in holding strict compliance with the decree was unnecessary, and the husband’s willingness to pay after the deadline was sufficient.  She argued the court should have awarded the property to her in accordance with the decree.  The decree provided that if payment in full was not made and had not cleared the bank within the two-year deadline, the wife would be awarded the property.  The trial court had held a hearing and made its conclusions based on the testimony and evidence that was presented.  The appeals court deferred to the trial court’s determinations of credibility in its role as fact finder.  The appeals court found the trial court did not err in finding the husband’s attempt to pay the balance was sufficient compliance with the decree.

The appeals court found the enforcement order was appropriate and affirmed it.

As this case shows, a party should make an effort to comply with the decree, even if the other party is not cooperating.  Here, the email showing the husband tried to arrange payments supported the court’s conclusion that he was in sufficient compliance with the decree.  If you are facing divorce, an experienced Texas divorce attorney can help you.  Call McClure Law Group at 214.692.8200.

More Blog Posts:

Clarification of an Ambiguous Texas Divorce Decree

Mediated Settlement Agreements in Texas Divorce