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weddingA Texas divorce may be granted in favor of one spouse if the other committed adultery.  Adultery occurs when one spouse has voluntary sexual intercourse with someone other than their spouse.  Adultery may occur after separation.  Suggestion and innuendo are insufficient to support a finding of adultery, but the finding can be based on circumstantial evidence.  One recent case addressed sufficiency of evidence for a finding of adultery.

The couple married in 1996 in India and had a daughter in the following year.  The husband moved to the U.S. in 2003, and his wife and daughter followed in 2004.  In 2006, however, the wife and daughter moved back to India.  The wife testified that she had not stayed in India voluntarily, but she had to remain because her husband canceled her plane ticket and her visa.  The husband agreed to help the daughter come back to the U.S. for college in 2013, and she insisted her mother join her.

The husband filed for divorce in 2015.  The trial court granted the divorce on the ground of adultery.  The wife appealed both the finding of adultery and the property division.   The appeals court had to determine whether the trial court abused its discretion by making a decision that was not supported by sufficient legal or factual evidence.

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sunriseIn a recent Texas child custody decision, a mother petitioned complaining about temporary orders that kept her from removing her three youngest kids from the county or any contiguous county in order to establish the kids’ primary residence.

The father petitioned to modify the parent-child relationship in October, trying to modify the couple’s divorce decree signed in July. The final divorce decree approved and incorporated the couple’s mediated settlement agreement signed by the couple in January. At the time of divorcing, the couple had 15 kids, and six of the kids were minors.

The settlement agreement gave the mother the right to decide the primary residence of the three youngest kids and the father the right to determine the other three kids’ primary residence. The final decree also gave the mother the exclusive right to designate the three youngest kids’ primary residence without regard to geographic location and granted the same right to the father as to the other three minor kids. During this time, the father lived in Burnet County. When the couple entered into the mediated settlement agreement, the mother lived in Amarillo, but she moved to Temple in a county contiguous to Burnet prior to the signing of the final order. The final decree allowed access and possession on the statutory basis provided, due to the couple living within 100 miles of each other.

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sitting roomIn a recent Texas property division case, an ex-husband appealed a final divorce decree on the basis of five issues. The case arose when a couple married in 1992. The wife filed for divorce in 2013, claiming the husband had cheated on her. She asked for a disproportionate share of the marital estate due to fault for the marriage breaking up, as well as a disparity in the spouses’ earning power and their ability to support themselves.

The husband filed a general denial and counterclaim and also asked for a disproportionate share of the marital estate. The lower court granted the divorce on the ground of adultery. The husband was awarded as separate property an undivided interest in a funeral home business, the land on which it was located, and two adjacent tracts. The wife was also awarded an undivided interest in the funeral home, the land, and the adjacent land. The lower court awarded her the marital home and an insurance check as well. The husband asked for findings of fact and conclusions of law. None were filed, and he didn’t file a notice of past due findings.

He appealed. The appellate court explained that during a divorce, the court must order a division of the estate in a way that is just and right with due respect to each party’s rights under Texas Family Code section 7.001. The appellate court found it should reverse a property division ruling only if the mistake materially affected the lower court’s just and right division of property.

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wedding ringsIn a recent Texas divorce decision, a woman appealed from a no-answer default divorce judgment that concluded her marriage. The couple had married in 2002 and had two kids. In 2013, the father petitioned for divorce and asked for a disproportionate percentage of the marital estate. He wanted to be appointed the sole managing conservator of the kids with the mother being ordered to pay him child support and obtain a life insurance policy on herself, naming him the sole beneficiary.

A return of service was filed that showed the mother was personally served. However, the mother didn’t answer or appear. The record was minimal until the father got a hearing to obtain a default judgment. Only he appeared. He testified as to what he believed had happened in connection with the separation. He claimed the mother had moved to another state, and she hadn’t seen the kids since moving but called the kids on the phone. He testified he had no insurance for the kids. He didn’t offer further evidence by testimony or through documentary proof.

Afterwards, the court signed a divorce decree that divided the marital property and appointed the father sole managing conservator for both kids. It ordered the mother to pay child support and awarded her retroactive child support. Additionally, retroactive medical support was ordered, and the mother was required to buy a life insurance policy on herself in which the father would be named sole beneficiary.

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boysIn a recent Texas appellate decision, a woman appealed the amount of the lower court’s award of monthly child support. She argued that it had been erroneously calculated. The case arose when a couple married in 1992 and had two kids. The mother sued for divorce. The court named her and the father as joint managing conservators with standard visitation. The father was ordered to pay $1,460.91 per month in child support, as well as provide health insurance for the kids. This amount was to be paid until their oldest kid either turned 18 or graduated from high school, and then it would be reduced to $1,168.73. The father was also ordered to provide health insurance for both children.

The mother asked for factual findings. The court found that the father had testified he made $174,000.00 in 2013. The court found that the presumptive amount established by the Guidelines was to be applied to his first $8,550.00 of net resources. Any amount beyond that required the court to look at the parties’ income and the child’s proven needs. The lower court calculated the amount based on the Guidelines for both kids.

The mother appealed, arguing that the lower court had conflated the father’s net monthly income with his gross monthly wages to decide child support. The appellate court found that the only issue was whether the lower court had calculated the amount of child support correctly. It noted that the lower court had broad discretion to determine child support, and it would review its decision under an abuse of discretion standard. There is an abuse of discretion if the lower court’s decision is arbitrary, unreasonable, or made without referring to guiding principles.

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pet cemeteryA recent Texas divorce appeal arose after a wife filed for a protective order against her husband. She asked for the protective order after her husband and her father had a physical fight at a pet cemetery when the group was trying to bury a dead family dog. Divorce proceedings had commenced by then.

At the graveyard were the husband and wife, their children, the wife’s father, and his wife. While the husband and father were digging with their shovels, the father’s shovel touched the husband’s scalp. He apologized to the husband and said it was an accident. However, the father didn’t believe the apology, and a fight broke out. The father was hit and kicked by his son-in-law, who later claimed he acted in self-defense. The trial judge determined that the husband had perpetrated family violence and would likely do so again. The wife was awarded a protective order and attorney’s fees.

The husband argued that there wasn’t enough legal or factual evidence to support the order and appealed. He argued it should be reversed. The appellate court explained it would need to decide whether the evidence submitted would allow a reasonable fact finder to get to the same conclusion. If it would, the evidence was enough to support the finding. In looking at whether the evidence was factually sufficient, it didn’t need to defer to the evidence that supported the decision. Instead, it had to consider all of the evidence in a neutral light and decide whether the finding cut so far against the preponderance of evidence as to be manifestly unjust or wrong.

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ColosseumIn a recent Texas divorce case, a husband appealed from a divorce decree. He and his wife married in 2014, and they had a son in the same year. In the following year, he petitioned the court to declare that their marriage was void, claiming that his wife’s prior marriage in Eritrea had never been properly concluded. Therefore, he argued, their marriage was void. She counter-petitioned for divorce.

The trial was bifurcated such that the court looked at whether the marriage was valid in one proceeding and decided the divorce-related concerns in a separate, later proceeding. During the first proceeding, the wife testified she married an Italian citizen in Eritrea in 2002, and she had two kids with him. They were legally separated in Italy, and her ex-husband was ordered to pay her child support. She also filed for divorce in Eritrea in 2013. The record included a decree from Eritrea in which the divorce was stated to be in 2013. The ex-husband didn’t appear in court, but a divorce was decreed, and the wife believed she was properly divorced.

The husband showed that the Italian legal proceedings were ongoing in 2013. The wife testified that the Italian proceedings were to get legally separated, but she’d asked for the divorce in Eritrea. Neither the wife nor the husband submitted information about Italian or Eritrean divorce law. At the end of the first proceeding, the husband’s request that his marriage be declared void was denied.

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briefcaseIn a recent Texas divorce case, the court examined a divorce decree that named a husband as constructive trustee of property decreed to the wife. The property at issue was a 50% undivided interest in the shares of an LLC. The dispute in the case was whether the constructive trustee had to give the wife documentation showing the status of the shares and the LLC’s tax returns and financial statements.

The case arose when the couple divorced and a mediated settlement agreement was incorporated into their divorce decree. The couple had agreed that any shares of the LLC that had been awarded to the wife would still be managed by the husband, who also had the exclusive right to control, manage, possess, and exercise the rights associated with shares of the LLC held in his name. The decree also stated that the husband was the constructive trustee for the wife’s benefit with regard to any of the LLC’s shares to the extent he was obligated to pay her under that provision of the agreement. It also ordered him to pay her 1/2 of the sum of all of the monies he received due to selling shares of the LLC.

The wife wanted assurance that the husband was properly maintaining the values of the LLC shares when he didn’t answer her questions. She sued him and moved for the appointment of a Rule 172 auditor. Through several procedural mechanisms, she asked for an accounting of the LLC’s finances from 2011 to the present. She also wanted him to produce the tax returns and K-1 forms that were related to her ownership interest. To support her claims, she claimed that the husband owed her statutory and common law duties, including a duty to give her an accounting, as a constructive trustee.

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hospitalIn a recent Texas child custody case, the children’s maternal uncle asked the trial court to name him to be sole managing conservator of the kids. The kids’ father, who was joint managing conservator of the kids when their mother died, moved to dismiss the lawsuit on the basis that he couldn’t establish standing to maintain the claim. The court determined that the uncle had failed to present enough evidence to show that the kids’ present situation would significantly harm their health or emotional development, as required by Texas Family Code section 102.004(a)(1).

The mother and father were appointed joint managing conservators of their two kids in 2012, with the mother having the right to designate a primary residence. The mother died of cancer in 2015 when one child was nine and the other was four. The father took over daily care for his kids. Prior to the mother dying, the kids had had significant interaction with the mother’s family, particularly their uncle on that side. After the death, the father refused to bring the kids to visit with the uncle’s cousin and didn’t bring the kids to their mother’s memorial service.

The uncle brought a petition, asking to be sole managing conservator of the kids, and supported it with an affidavit in which the mother had asked that he and his wife care for the kids if she died and in which he stated he and his wife had been actively involved in the kids’ lives. He also claimed that the father hadn’t supported the kids financially, hadn’t been involved with the kids before their mother died, and didn’t provide appropriate emotional support or arrangements.

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houseIn a recent Texas appellate decision, a wife appealed a judgment dividing a community estate between her and her husband. She argued that the trial court should have ordered the husband to reimburse her for certain expenses.

The couple had married in 2004 and divorced in 2013. The lower court awarded the wife a community residence as separate property. The appellate court court held that this residence was improperly included in the community estate, and it sent the matter back down for a new property division trial.

After that, the wife asked the court to reimburse her for money she’d spent on a house in Fort Worth, as well as what she’d paid to satisfy the husband’s premarital debts and premiums she’d paid on his insurance policies. She asked to be named the beneficiary of the husband’s life insurance policy if she weren’t awarded reimbursement for premiums she’d already paid. The lower court held a hearing on the reimbursement issue.

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