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ringsIn a recent Texas divorce case, the lower court imposed so-called “death penalty sanctions” against the wife for litigation misconduct. The wife sued for divorce in 2016, and the husband counter-petitioned in the following month. In the counter-petition, the husband pled claims of misapplication of community property, fraud, breach of fiduciary duty, and forgery.

The wife didn’t cooperate with written or oral discovery, causing the husband to ask for sanctions. He also filed a motion to compel discovery, claiming she hadn’t responded to multiple requests for written discovery and had refused to answer questions at her deposition. The lower court set a hearing but, without holding the hearing, said it would consider the motion for sanctions. It ordered the wife to respond to the husband’s discovery requests. The husband and wife agreed to an order that addressed the motions for sanctions. It found the wife had again failed to answer the written discovery and ordered her to answer. She and her husband signed the agreed order.

Nonetheless, the wife didn’t answer the discovery requests, and he again moved for sanctions. He said she hadn’t provided answers to interrogatories. He claimed that she’d produced some documents, but they weren’t identified or categorized as responses to particular requests. He also claimed she hadn’t given an accounting she’d been ordered to give and hadn’t answered the deposition questions she’d previously refused to answer. He asked for severe sanctions, including a default judgment against her.

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Alex Graves, award-winning director of “The West Wing” recently finalized his divorce from his wife of 19 years. Pursuant to the final order, the spouses’ property was divided evenly. Does the State of Texas mandate a fifty-fifty division of property upon divorce? The short answer is “no.” Continue reading →

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The Texas legislature has taken a strong stance against family violence. Title IV of the Texas Family Code codifies the injunctive remedy of Family Violence Protective Orders. In Texas, an Applicant for a Title IV Protective Order must first satisfy the venue requirements and have a qualifying relationship with the Respondent. In limited situations, an Applicant may be afforded the opportunity to apply for a Title IV Protective Order on behalf of another. Continue reading →

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The legalization of same-sex marriage may only be a few months old, but Texas’ informal marriage laws may provide for marriage recognition dating back decades. On June 26, 2015 the United States Supreme Court issued its ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, legalizing same-sex marriage in every state of the Union. Since the rendering of the Court’s ruling, counties across the state of Texas have issued thousands of marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Upon receipt of a marriage license, these couples become eligible to enter into formal marriage. However, Texas also recognizes informal marriage, frequently referred to as common law marriage. Texas allows parties to an informal marriage to hold, as their legal wedding date, the earliest date at which all statutory requirements of an informal marriage were satisfied. What does this mean for same-sex couples who satisfied the statutory requirements before the legalization of same-sex marriage in Texas?

Under the Texas Family Code, an informal marriage may be proved by evidence that: (1) a declaration of marriage has been signed; or (2) by showing that the parties agreed to be married and after the agreement they cohabited together, in Texas, as a married couple, and represented themselves to others, in Texas, to be married. (see Texas Family Code 2.401). Upon satisfaction of the second prong, the couple may file a declaration of marriage and list, as their date of marriage, the earliest date at which all requirements were concurrently satisfied. Of course, same-sex couples are now afforded the ability to enter into informal marriage. The question is, however, will same-sex couples who satisfied all requirements of the law be allowed to declare their marriages to a date prior to June 16, 2015?

Initially, it was believed that state officials would hold that same-sex common law marriages could not be dated before June 26, 2015, as same-sex marriages were void ab initio under the law. However, with respect to a recent declaration of marriage filed by a same-sex couple in Tarrant County, Texas, the Texas Department of State Health Services stated that “Applicants, regardless of gender, may apply for an informal marriage license using any date applicable to their relationship.” Accordingly, this Tarrant County couple was allowed to date their informal marriage to 1992.