Articles Posted in Divorce

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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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Many people ask: Can my children decide where they want to live in a divorce? There are many ways for a court to consider children’s input about where they want to live.

The first way is simply allowing children to talk to the judge. Section 153.009 of the Texas Family Code allows a parent to request that a judge interview the child in chambers to determine the child’s wishes regarding certain aspects of custody. If a child is over the age of 12, it is mandatory that the judge interview the child on the request of a parent. A judge may also interview a child under age 12. It is important to know that 12-year old children cannot actually decide where they where they want to live. They will not be providing the “final say.” Instead, the child’s wishes will just be one factor that the Court considers in addition to other important information. Another thing to keep in mind is that this process can be traumatic for children. Sitting in a judge’s chambers can be very intimidating for a child, and a child could be negatively impacted by the pressure of such a weighty decision. However, many times, a child’s input can be very important in a child custody dispute, and so there are other means to obtain the information indirectly.

Another way to get a child’s input in child custody litigation is through a Child Custody Evaluation. In Texas, the only mental health professional that may make recommendations as to possession and conservatorship for children is a child custody evaluator. The Texas Family Code provides very detailed requirements for a child custody evaluation, which includes interviews of each parent and anyone living in a house with the child, interviews of the child, and observations of the home environment and each parent’s interactions with the child. The child custody evaluator will therefore be able to talk to children about where they want to live, and will do so in conjunction with a much broader study into the children’s home environment and what will ultimately be in the best interests of the children.

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briefcaseA recent Texas appeal concerned property division in a divorce. The case arose when a couple got married in 2004 and then separated in 2011. The wife filed for divorce in 2013, and the husband countersued, alleging fraud, breach of fiduciary duty, conspiracy, and other claims against the wife, some business entities, and the wife’s three adult daughters.

Certain business entities were operated by both the husband and the wife. However, the husband claimed that some of the other business entities were created by the wife in the name of her daughters, using community funds, in order to defraud the community estate.

The daughter asked for summary judgment before trial, and this motion was granted. After a bench trial, the court entered a final divorce decree dividing the marital estate between the parties. The wife appealed. She argued that the husband had been awarded a disproportionate share of the marital estate and that this was an abuse of discretion.

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statueIn a recent Texas appellate decision, a wife appealed from an order that denied her petition to enforce and to clarify the divorce order. The husband and wife had divorced in 1990 and stipulated to the divorce decree. At that time, the husband had retired from the United States Army and got retirement pay on a monthly basis. The divorce decree determined that the community interest in the monthly retirement benefit was 80%, and the cost of living-related increases would be made periodically and would likely need to occur in the future.

The wife was awarded a portion of the retirement benefit. The wife was entitled to 50% of the cost-of-living increases (COLA) to which the husband would become entitled from the date of the divorce to the death of the husband. In 2000, the wife asked the court to clarify the divorce decree and enforce her part of the COLA.

The judge decided she was entitled to $774.02 as her portion of COLA benefits that hadn’t already been paid by the husband. She appealed. The referring court adopted the judge’s finding that she could get clarification of the divorce decree and that she should be given 50% of the COLA benefits. It reversed the exact amount that should be awarded. Specifically, it ordered that she would be entitled to $391 each month of the retirement pay plus half of any COLAs when they were received. She was awarded $7,628 for all of the past COLA payments that the ex-husband had not paid. Nobody appealed this award.

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scottish-cow-1365844-e1490131408410In a recent Texas appellate case, the court considered the lower court’s division of a marital estate. The couple was married in 1990 and bought two businesses while married, one an insurance agency operated by the wife and the other a livestock auction house operated by the husband. The wife sued for divorce in 2010.

At a bench trial in 2013, the lower court admitted the wife’s testimony, inventory of assets and exhibits related to their value. She offered two experts to testify about their appraisal of property, including the livestock auction house. The experts were supposed to testify on the value of the assets as well as the wife’s theory that the husband had committed fraud on the estate by arranging the sale of cows through the auction house and concealing the proceeds from her.

The husband objected, and the court agreed with him. The court prevented one expert from testifying and found that the other’s testimony wasn’t credible. The wife didn’t challenge these rulings when she appealed. The husband’s exhibits were mostly not admitted. The court deferred judgment after trial and asked the couple to go to mediation.

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One of the best ways to protect your assets during marriage is to enter into a premarital agreement (also known as a prenuptial agreement or prenup) prior to getting married that details all the assets and liabilities of both parties prior to marriage and details each party’s rights and obligations to the other’s income earned during marriage.

You might be thinking that a premarital agreement may cause strain on the marriage before it even begins so you instead plan to protect your assets by setting up separate bank accounts for your separate property and ensuring no community assets are ever commingled into the account during marriage. While this may seem like a suitable alternative, these measures may be insufficient to protect your fortune. Since interest accrued during the marriage, salary earned during the marriage, and cash dividends distributed the marriage will all be community property without a premarital agreement stating otherwise, a premarital agreement will often be necessary.

So how do you ask your fiancé to sign a premarital agreement without causing strain on the engagement? The answer lies in the actual terms of the premarital agreement. The words ‘prenuptial agreement’ are too often associated with misconceptions about one-sided deals with the non-monied spouse getting nothing. In reality, prenups are simply agreements to define the rights and obligations of couples who are about to marry. Additionally, the future spouse who is wealthier should know that the more one-sided the agreement, the more likely it is to be attacked upon divorce. As such, the wealthier future spouse has an incentive to make the agreement attractive to his or her fiancé.

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mother and daughter

In Interest of W.B.B. considered a request for contempt findings against a Texas mother. The parents of a child had divorced in 2010. The parents were named joint managing conservators of their child, and the father had the right to designate his residence. The couple agreed to multiple mutual injunctions.

Among other injunctions, their divorce decree incorporated a morality clause agreement that prevented both the mother and the father from permitting anyone with whom she or he was romantically involved to stay overnight while the couple’s son was with her or him. The injunction was to expire in 2015 when the son turned eight, or when one of the ex-spouses remarried, whichever event happened first.

The father remarried in 2013, and the son’s eighth birthday was in 2015. The father moved to modify the divorce decree. The couple reached a mediated settlement agreement that the court incorporated into its order granting the motion to modify the original agreement. The order allowed the father to designate the child’s primary residence and also kept the morality clause in effect with the exception that it would be void if the mother remarried before the child turned eight, and this would be the material and substantial change in circumstances. The mother’s child support obligation would increase to be in line with the Texas Child Support Guidelines, the mother would have to reimburse the father for their child’s health insurance, and the mother would need to notify the father of the remarriage if it happened before the child turned eight. The parents were also prohibited from coming within 50 feet of each other, interfering with the other’s job, and doing other things.

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flowersIn a recent Texas Supreme Court case, the Court considered the acceptance-of-benefits doctrine, which stops a litigant from challenging judgments after voluntarily accepting any benefits provided by the judgment. The Court considered the case because divorces regularly divide assets in situations in which a party can possess and control assets before the final divorce decree, which can make the rigid application of the doctrine untenable.

The case arose from a nine-year marriage involving one child and a $30 million marital estate. The couple settled a bitter divorce with two agreements after two years. One of the agreements had to do with child custody, while the other was about property distribution. After the final agreement was executed, the court held an evidentiary hearing. The court approved the settlement agreements, after the husband testified the conservatorship was in their child’s best interest and the division of property was fair and equitable.

A year later, the rulings were written down as a final divorce decree. Between the hearing and the writing, the wife revoked consent and tried to get the property distribution set aside on the ground that it was fraudulently gotten. She claimed the husband forged her signature on real estate documents and concealed major assets, which resulted in an inequitable division.

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If your business partner is also your life partner, you need to consider a recent Texas high court decision. (read more)

Gonzalez v. Maggio, 500 S.W.3d 656 (Tex. App. – Austin 2016) is a Texas case that illustrates the complexities of ending a business partnership along side of ending a personal partnership. The Texas Court of Appeals reviewed how a husband and wife, who were also law partners, would divide their clients, fees, and remaining clientele.

The case arose out of a divorce in which the husband and wife had also formed a law partnership during their marriage. There was no written partnership agreement but it was undisputed that they shared in the capital, profits and losses 50/50.

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houseIn Araujo v. Araujo, an ex-wife appealed from an order denying her motion to revoke and set aside a mediated settlement agreement for her divorce. The ex-wife argued on appeal that the agreement lacked consideration and therefore wasn’t enforceable, her own attorney coerced her to sign it, and there was an invalid provision that made it unenforceable.

The case arose when a husband and wife entered into a mediated settlement agreement in August 2014. It awarded the wife certain property in two Texas cities and required her to pay $27,000 to the husband by a certain date. The agreement stated that each party had made a fair, reasonable disclosure of finances and property to the other. The wife was represented by an attorney, who withdrew from representation in October 2014.

Her second attorney filed a motion to revoke and set aside the agreement. She argued that the agreement resulted in an unjust estate division, due to the husband’s fraud. She claimed that the only property she got under the agreement was separate property, that she was entitled to half of the community property awarded to her ex-husband, that the agreement didn’t address the retirement in the amount of about $22,000, and that it didn’t address or divide the couple’s two vehicles. A trial court denied her motion.

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