Articles Posted in Divorce

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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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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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wedding ringA recent Texas appellate decision arose from the appeal of a divorce. The husband argued that the evidence was not enough to support the jury’s finding of an informal marriage and that it was improper for the trial court to admit hearsay evidence, as well as that an “Agreement in Contemplation of Marriage” should be enforced as a post-marital agreement.

The couple had been married in 2003 and had triplets. The husband sued for divorce in 2010. He claimed that the couple had married in a 2003 ceremony and asked that an Agreement in Contemplation of Marriage entered into in July, before the ceremony, be enforced. The agreement stated that the couple wouldn’t have community property during their marriage. The husband also argued it wasn’t in the kids’ best interests for them to be joint managing conservators of them, and he should be appointed as the sole managing conservator.

The wife counter-sued for divorce, claiming that the agreement in question had been executed after the couple had informally married and couldn’t be construed as a prenuptial agreement that prevented a community estate from being created. The wife asked that she be appointed as the sole managing conservator.

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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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coupleIn a recent Texas appellate case, the court considered a divorce arising from a common law marriage. The husband argued that the lower court had made a mistake in mischaracterizing parcels of real property as community property and failing to reimburse him.

The couple started their common law marriage during the spring of 2013. No children came of the marriage, and there were differences about the precise beginning. Two pieces of real property were acquired that spring. The husband claimed he got one parcel, including the main house, by himself as a single person.

Two days later, the couple acquired an adjacent parcel as a married couple. There were five or six houses on it. According to the wife, both properties were gotten during the marriage and thus should be considered community property. The husband claimed both were separate property because their marriage didn’t start until after the first property was purchased. He claimed that the second property should still be characterized as separate property because title was taken by tracing back to an earnest money contract predating the marriage.

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dancingIn a recent Texas appellate case, a wife appealed from a final divorce decree that incorporated the terms of the couple’s mediated settlement agreement. After she and her husband entered into the agreement, she asked the trial court to set it aside.

The couple had married in 1997 and had no kids. They decided to divorce in 2015 and mediated their differences. They signed an agreement dividing up their property and debts, but it was contingent on a short sale of a house they owned. The husband was awarded the interest in the property, and the wife had to sign certain documents. She would be paid a portion of the proceeds from the sale. Meanwhile, the husband got all of the interest in their two trusts.

A few weeks later, the wife tried to withdraw, and the trial court granted the motion. The husband asked the court to sign a final divorce decree, while the wife tried to quash the agreement. The husband asked a receiver to be appointed, claiming that the wife refused to sign the papers in order to facilitate the property sale.

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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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