Sometimes, couples’ lives remain intertwined even after divorce. If the parties continue to mingle finances, own property together, or keep or take out loans together after the divorce is final, the divorce may not finally resolve all of their issues.
In a recent case, an ex-husband sued his ex-wife regarding property she had been awarded in the divorce years earlier. The parties purchased a vacation home during their marriage. The ex-wife was awarded the vacation home in the divorce decree, but a geographical restriction on where the children could live prevented her from living in it.
The ex-wife put the house up for sale after the divorce, but did not sell it after the husband offered to pay the mortgage. The ex-husband received the statements and made the payments. The ex-wife testified she was aware her ex-husband was paying the mortgage.
The parties refinanced about two years after the divorce. The ex-husband argued he was a co-signor, but the record showed he was listed as a “Borrower,” along with the ex-wife.
Five years later, the ex-husband sued the ex-wife to for breach of contract and to partition the house. He alleged she agreed to sell him the house “through an oral earnest money contract.” He asked the court to either order her to convey it to him or order its partition.
The ex-husband testified he had mortgage payments of about $150,000 and $50,000 in other expenses over ten years. He paid the expenses without getting the wife’s approval for the repairs. He testified she agreed to convey the house to him in exchange for him making payments on the house. He said he wanted both repayment and title to the property.
The ex-husband used the property several days per month with the ex-wife’s permission. While there, he used her furniture and personal property.
The ex-wife agreed she had not made any mortgage payments in the past ten years, stating she had not used the house during that time. She testified they agreed the ex-husband would make the mortgage payments because he was using the property like a renter. She first said she should repay some of the payments and expenses, but later stated he had used the property and maybe should not get anything further.
The ex-husband’s attorney agreed there was no evidence of a written agreement to convey the house. The trial court directed a verdict in favor of the ex-wife on the breach of oral earnest money contract claim.
The trial court only submitted the breach of contract to repay the ex-husband and quantum meruit claims to the jury. The jury found in favor of the ex-wife on both claims and the trial court entered a take-nothing judgment against the ex-husband.
The ex-husband ultimately appealed, arguing there was legally sufficient evidence to establish unjust enrichment as a matter of law. The ex-husband argued the bank would have foreclosed on the property and he would have been in default on the noted. He did not provide any evidence showing the house would have been foreclosed putting him in default. He testified the ex-wife had trouble paying the mortgages on both the vacation property and her home in Houston. He also testified they had refinanced both properties. He also said a homeowner’s association obtained a judgment against them for unpaid fees on the ex-wife’s house in Houston.
The ex-wife testified, however, that she would have sold or rented the house if the ex-husband had not started paying the mortgage. The appeals court also noted that the ex-husband had a personal interest in not defaulting on the loan, because the evidence showed he was a borrower with joint and several liability on the refinanced note. The appeals court also pointed out the ex-husband’s use of the house and failure to obtain the ex-wife’s approval before paying for repairs and expenses. The appeals court found the ex-husband had not established that the ex-wife had wrongfully received a benefit it would be unjust or unconscionable for her to keep.
The ex-husband also argued the trial court abused its discretion in refusing to submit jury questions on his unjust enrichment, promissory estoppel, and fraud claims. The appeals court noted the ex-husband did not provide any evidence showing he relied on the ex-wife’s promise to repay him. The appeals court also found he failed to adequately brief the issue on his fraud claim. The appeals court overruled the ex-husband on all of his challenges regarding the jury questions.
The appeals court affirmed the trial court’s judgment.
Although this was not a divorce case, it shows how issues not resolved during a divorce can lead back to court years later. If you have concerns about a potential property distribution, an experienced Texas divorce attorney can advise you. McClure Law Group has the skills and experience to help you avoid future issues. Call 214.692.8200 to schedule a consultation.