Articles Posted in Property Rights

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


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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In 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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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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In McCoy v. McCoy, a Texas husband appealed from a divorce decree, arguing that the lower court should not have denied his claim for reimbursement. The couple started dating in 2009. In the following year, they got engaged, and the husband moved to start law school. His fiancée joined him there in a rental house. They married in 2011. The wife worked full time during the husband’s first year in law school but then started going to law school as well. They both relied on student loans to cover their expenses and tuition.

Later, the husband claimed they had an agreement that the wife would pay him $700 every month and also pay for groceries and gas. He argued that she budgeted poorly and only sometimes paid this part of the expenses, and as a result he had to get supplemental student loans to cover her portion. They kept separate checking accounts related to their different law school loans.

In 2013, after the husband graduated, the wife filed for divorce. The husband responded by claiming he was entitled to reimbursement from his wife because he’d had to use his separate property to pay for her necessary living expenses. A bench trial was conducted, and the trial court divided the marital estate by awarding each of them the property they possessed and by ordering each spouse to pay his or her loans and debts solely in his or her name. The trial court also found that the husband’s request for reimbursement wasn’t supported by a preponderance of the evidence.

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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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I know what you’re thinking…. “I’m already married; how is it not too late?” Don’t worry; the solution is a postnup! The Texas Family Code allows for couples to enter into a postnuptial agreement (or marital property agreement), which will offer many of the same protections and advantages that a prenuptial agreement offers.

Current Property. At the time of marriage, both spouses often have separate property interests and liabilities that were acquired prior to marriage. Without a prenup, the spouses’ separate property estates often become commingled and indistinguishable from the community estate of the spouses that begins upon marriage, especially if the spouses have been married for a substantial period of time. For example, during marriage, a spouse may inherit a large estate from a relative, gifts, buy a house, sell or trade property, or put separate property money in the same bank account. Although you and your spouse did not execute a premarital agreement, it is not too late to distinguish your separate property in a marital property agreement.

Chapter 4 of the Texas Family Code, Subchapter B, outlines the statutory requirements and guidelines for a marital agreement. Section 4.102 states:

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Wedding season will be upon us soon, and if you or somebody you care about will be getting married this summer, now is the time to strongly consider getting or recommending a premarital agreement Continue reading →