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Texas Appeals Court Upholds Disproportionate Property Distribution

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.

The husband had been in an accident and was unable to work for several months.  He testified he could not support himself or make child support payments.  The wife had used the money she withdrew from the joint accounts and her salary to pay the husband’s car payment, household bills, health insurance, child care, and school fees.

The wife testified she asked for a disproportionate share because the husband wasted community property and subjected her to cruel treatment.  He agreed the wife should get the home, but asked for half of the equity.  He testified they had both purchased the house, but the wife’s mother and  friend provided money for the down payment.  The wife testified she made the down payment from gifted funds she received before the marriage.  The checks she received for the down payment did not include the husband as a payee and the mother and friend each testified they gave the money only to the wife.

The husband sought half of the wife’s retirement account and half the tax refund.  The wife asked for child support and reimbursement for the husband’s and children’s health insurance premiums after separation. She argued each party should keep their own retirement accounts.

The trial court found the down payment was a gift only to the wife and awarded her the home.  The court ordered that the husband’s half of the tax refund would be used to pay child support.  The court ordered that the husband would get $10,000 of the wife’s retirement, and the wife would get half of the husband’s retirement account from a former employer.  After finding the husband’s retirement account with the previous employer was $20,000, the parties agreed that the cost of dividing the accounts would outweigh the difference and each would keep their own retirement accounts.

In the divorce decree, the court awarded the wife a disproportionate share of the community estate due to the husband’s fault in the breakup, the husband’s waste, and the conservatorship of the children.  It also awarded each party their own retirement accounts.

The husband appealed the disproportionate disposition.  He argued the trial court erred in awarding the wife the home and the equity in it.  He argued a half interest in the home was his separate property.

The appeals court found the husband could not complain the court erred in awarding the home to the wife when he asked the court to do so. Furthermore, the appeals court found the home was the wife’s separate property.  The wife proved the home had been purchased years before the marriage.  There was evidence at trial supporting the trial court’s finding the funds for the down payment had been gifted to the wife alone.  The trial court also found she had traced the funds used to buy the home to her separate property.  The court also found the husband had not contributed to acquiring the home.  The appeals court found no error in the trial court’s finding he was not entitled to half the home’s equity.

The husband also argued the trial court failed to consider relevant factors in dividing the property, specifically the retirement accounts and tax refund.

The appeals court noted it examines the property division as a whole to determine if the trial court abused its discretion.  The trial court considered the husband’s fault.  He had cashed out $15,000 from one retirement account and spent community assets on alcohol, drugs and gambling.  There was evidence he had vandalized the home and failed to provide support for the children.

The court also considered his income and education as a nurse and the wife’s employment in retail.  It considered the cost of repairing the damage to the home.  The wife would have to pay for the children’s needs.  Additionally, the husband had already withdrawn $15,000 from one retirement account and the parties agreed the wife would keep all her own retirement accounts.

The husband testified he could not support himself, so it was unlikely he would be able to pay child support.  This fact supported the trial court’s decision that the husband’s share of the tax refund be used to pay child support.

The appeals court found the husband failed to show an abuse of discretion in the trial court’s disproportionate property division and affirmed the trial court’s judgment.

In this case, the appeals court not only found no abuse of discretion in the trial court’s disproportionate property division, but it also found that the family home was the wife’s separate property.  The wife was able to prove the house was her separate property by having records allowing her to trace the funds to her separate property.

If you are facing a divorce, the Texas divorce attorneys at McClure Law Group can work with you to identify the records that will help you get the best possible property distribution.  Call us at 214.692.8200 to set up an appointment to talk about your case.

 

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