Articles Posted in Divorce

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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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According to a recent case from the Texas Court of Appeals in Dallas, a spouse’s secret recording of the other spouse at a time when the other spouse believed he or she was in a private setting can support a tort claim for invasion of privacy. Continue reading →

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What happens to the engagement ring if someone calls off the wedding?

KELLY AND BETSYS RING PHOTO
Unfortunately, before some engaged couples can make it down the aisle to say “I do”, someone says “I don’t”. The issue of who gets to keep the engagement ring often surfaces during this heartbreaking time.

An engagement ring is a gift and the law requires three elements to constitute an irrevocable gift:

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crack in rockIn Maher v. Maher, a husband challenged the court’s final divorce decree. He argued, among other things, that the trial court had mischaracterized and misvalued certain assets of the marital estate. The wife had sought the divorce on the grounds that they had discord or personality conflicts. She asked for a division of community property, confirmation of her separate property, reimbursement, and attorneys’ fees. The husband asked for a division of community property in which he received a disproportionate share, confirmation of his separate property, reimbursement, and attorneys’ fees.

The matter went to trial. The wife testified they had a son who was over 18 years old. The couple didn’t have a close marital relationship, and the wife claimed the husband’s drinking threatened their relationship. In 1995, her parents started giving her monetary gifts, and when her mother died, she became the beneficiary of a bypass trust that her mother created.

When her father died, she received distributions from his estate too. From her parents, she’d received over $1.2 million, which she claimed was separate property. She also explained that they’d given her husband monetary gifts of about $68,000, which she said was his separate property.

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hands

Often times, before commencement of or during a suit for dissolution of marriage, one spouse will commit fraud against the couple’s community estate. Texas law recognizes two types of fraud: (1) constructive fraud; and (2) actual fraud.

Constructive fraud claims are based on a breach of fiduciary duty by one spouse against the other. Puntarelli v. Peterson, 405 S.W.3d 131, 2013 Tex. App. LEXIS 1458, 2013 WL 561484 (Tex. App. Houston 1st Dist. 2013) If someone owes a fiduciary duty, they have a legal obligation to act in the best interest of another. When a constructive fraud claim is being alleged, the argument is that one spouse has a fiduciary duty to act in the best interest of the other spouse regarding the protection and management of the community estate, and that duty was breached by a spouse who misappropriated assets from the community estate. A constructive fraud claim can also be pursued under the theory of waste, where one spouse disburses community assets for noncommunity purposes without the other spouse’s knowledge or consent. Connell v. Connell, 889 S.W.2d 534, 1994 Tex. App. LEXIS 3020 (Tex. App. San Antonio 1994)

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