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Property division in a Texas divorce must be just and right.  In some cases, courts may determine that a disproportionate division of the community assets is just and right.  In dividing the property, courts may consider a number of factors, including the ages of the parties and their relative physical conditions, their abilities, their education and business opportunites, and the size of their separate estates.  The court may also consider fault, but may not punish a spouse through the property division. In a recent case, a husband challenged the disproportionate division of property awarded to the wife.

The parties separated after the husband was fired from his nursing job for failing to take a drug test.  The wife testified she lived with the husband’s mother during the separation.  She testified she withdrew funds from their joint checking accounts because the money was being used for drugs and gambling.  According to the appeals court’s opinion, the husband was banned from his mother’s home and ordered to have no contact with the wife or their children by an Arkansas court.

The wife petitioned for divorce and asked to be awarded a disproportionate share of the community assets.  The trial court ordered the husband to vacate the home.  There was evidence the husband broke into the home and caused damage to the home and personal property.

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Texas family law was written before marriage between same-sex partners was recognized.  Many of the statutes are written in gendered terms that do not contemplate the possibility of marriage between same-sex partners or parents who are the same sex.  A recent case considered whether the female spouse of a child’s biological and birth mother was a parent under Texas law.

The appellant had a child at the time of the marriage and the parties discussed having a child together.  A friend of the parties agreed to be their sperm donor.  They agreed the appellee would carry the child.  According to the appeals court’s opinion, the appellant performed the insemination in the parties’ apartment.   The appellant accompanied the appellee to most of her doctor’s appointments.  She was at the hospital when the baby was born and took family leave to be with the baby. When the parties divorced, the trial court found the appellant was also a parent to the child and ordered her to pay child support. She appealed.

The appellant argued “parents” are defined as a mother and father in the Texas Family Code.  The appellee argued that same-sex marriage and related benefits are recognized in the United States pursuant to U.S. Supreme Court decisions and Texas law must be read in light of those decisions.

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A court may modify a Texas custody order only in certain circumstances.  One of the most common reasons to modify an order is that there has been a material and substantial change in circumstances since the previous order and a modification is in the child’s best interest.  Whether a material and substantial change has occurred is a question of fact. The party seeking modification has the burden of proving a material and substantial change has occurred.

In a recent case, a father challenged denial of his petition for modification because he had not been allowed to present evidence to support it.  A 2010 order named the parents joint managing conservators, with the mother having the exclusive right to designate the child’s primary residence.

The child moved in with his father, his paternal grandmother and his step-grandfather following his mother’s death in 2015.  The grandparents filed a petition to modify the 2010 custody order based on the mother’s death, as well as the father’s behaviors they claimed significantly impaired the child’s safety and well-being.  The grandparents asked to be named temporary joint managing conservators with the right to designate the child’s primary residence.  They also asked the father be denied access to the child, or alternatively, that his access to the child be supervised.

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A parent may demand a jury trial in a Texas custody case.  After the jury decides certain foundational issues, the trial court then determines the specific terms and conditions.  The Texas Family Code prohibits the court from contravening the jury’s verdict on certain specified issues, including primary residence. Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 105.002.

A mother recently challenged a trial court’s possession order on the grounds it contravened the jury’s verdict and was not in the child’s best interest.  The father petitioned to be named joint managing conservator with the exclusive right to designate the child’s primary residence when the child was two months old.  The jury found the mother should have the exclusive right to designate the child’s primary residence within the state of Texas.  Following a bench trial on possession and access, the trial court orally ordered the father would have “week on/week off” possession.

The court issued a final order appointing the parents joint managing conservators with the mother having the exclusive right to designate the primary residence in Texas.  The order also granted the father week-on/week-off possession until the child turned five and started kindergarten.  In August 2022, the father would be subject to a standard possession order.

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In a Texas divorce, the division of community property must be just and right.  The goal is an equitable, but not necessarily equal, division. A party may not get the specific items that he or she wants, but that does not necessarily mean that the division of property is not just and right. In a recent case, the wife challenged the specifics of the property division.

According to the court’s opinion, the husband’s retirement annuity was worth $234,000 when he retired from his job. There was evidence that he withdrew funds from the account and hid them from the wife. There was evidence that he used the funds for household expenses and expenses related to the couple’s horses.  The retirement account was worth approximately $50,000 at the time of trial.

The husband admitted that he did not report the withdrawals on the joint tax returns for several years, resulting in a $20,000 liability to the IRS. After the separation, the wife hired a CPA to seek innocent spouse status for her. She testified that she wanted the husband to pay the $3,000 for the CPA’s services.

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Generally, a Texas child custody order can be modified only if the modification is in the child’s best interest, and there has been a material and substantial change in circumstances. Family violence may constitute a change in circumstances warranting a modification.

In a recent case, a mother challenged a modification, alleging that there was insufficient evidence of family violence to support a finding of a change in circumstances. When the child was an infant, the parents entered into an agreed order, appointing both of them as joint managing conservators, with the mother having the exclusive right to designate the primary residence.

The mother was subsequently charged with assaulting the father’s girlfriend.  In December 2016, the mother took the child to California to live with her mother and other children.

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Texas child custody law includes a presumption that a parent will be appointed sole managing conservator or both parents will be joint managing conservators of their children unless a court finds that doing so would significantly impair the health or emotional development of the children. Although it can be difficult for a third party to get custody of a child, it does occur in some cases.  Grandparents and stepparents, in particular, can play significant roles in children’s lives and may want custody.  A father recently challenged an order appointing him, the mother, and the stepfather as joint managing conservators of the child.

The father argued that the stepfather had not rebutted the parental presumption. He argued that the stepfather had to rebut the parental presumption in Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 153.131(a) to succeed in his petition to modify the prior order.  The appeals court found, however, that the statute and the presumption contained therein only apply to original custody proceedings.  The order at issue was not the original order, but it was instead a modification of the prior order.  The presumption was therefore not applicable, and the stepfather did not have to rebut it at this stage.

The father also argued that the stepfather did not have standing to petition for a modification.  The father argued that Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 102.004 applied.  Under this statute, a grandparent or another relative may file suit seeking custody if the child’s current circumstances would significantly impair his or her health or emotional development, or if the suit is filed or consented to by the parents or the managing conservator.

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In calculating child support, a Texas court must consider each parent’s net resources.  The Texas Family Code defines which resources are to be included, and which types of resources are excluded from consideration.  In a recent case, a wife challenged an order to pay child support and medical support, partly because the court had improperly considered certain resources.

The husband testified that he lacked health insurance and did not have access to private insurance.  Although the wife did not appear at the trial, the husband was previously the trustee of her supplemental social security income (SSI) and testified that he believed that she still received $750 per month.  There was no other evidence of her income or ability to work.

The trial court designated the husband as the sole managing conservator of the children and ordered the wife to pay child and medical support.  The court calculated the payment based on her SSI.

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Texas family law presumes a husband is the father of his wife’s children born during the marriage. A presumed father may challenge paternity, but he generally must do so by the child’s fourth birthday.  Adjudication of the paternity of a child with a presumed father may occur later, however, if a court finds the presumed father did not live with or have sexual intercourse with the mother when the child was conceived or if misrepresentations led the presumed father to a mistaken belief he was the biological father.  Tex. Fam. Code § 160.607.

A husband recently challenged a trial court order including a child as a child of the marriage after he presented evidence of a DNA test showing he was not the father.  The daughter was born in 2004 and the son in 2012.  In 2013, the husband obtained a paternity test confirming he was not the daughter’s biological father.  He filed for divorce in 2017.  In his petition, he listed both children as “children of the marriage” and sought the right to designate their primary residence.  He sought child support and medical support from the wife for both children.  The wife also sought child support, medical support, and the right to designate primary residence.

Each spouse alleged the other had been unfaithful.  The husband presented the DNA test results to support his allegation.  When his attorney asked if he was asking the court to say that the daughter was not his child, he indicated he was not and agreed he accepted parental responsibility for her.  He indicated the purpose of admitting the paternity test was not to deny paternity, but to show that his wife had been unfaithful.  Both parents testified the girl had not been told she was not the husband’s biological child.

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Parties sometimes realize they have different understandings of a Texas divorce decree.  The trial court may issue a clarifying order if the decree is ambiguous.  In some cases, the decree may be facially unambiguous, but have a latent ambiguity when read in context of the surrounding circumstances.  In a recent case, a husband challenged a clarification order.

The final divorce decree included a provision setting forth the amount of his bonuses the husband would pay to the wife.  It further provided he would provide her a 1099 tax statement for each payment if allowed by his employer.  If he could not provide the 1099, “then the payments made to [the wife would] be the amounts above net of taxes paid in [his] tax bracket.”

The wife later petitioned for enforcement, arguing the husband was not dividing the bonuses “net of taxes paid in [his] bracket,” but was instead dividing them after the tax withholding by his employer.  She requested a clarifying order if the court found the decree was not specific enough to enforce by contempt.

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